WILLY THE DREAMER by Anthony Browne, Candlewick Press, $16.99.
Following four other Willy books, "Willy the Dreamer" shows how this lovable little ape makes his wishes-of-all-wishes. He becomes a singer (in Elvis garb), a ballet dancer (in leotard) and a sumo wrestler (in not much of anything!).Willy is a dreamer. In "Willy the Wimp," he worked hard to develop muscles, and he kind of achieved them in "Willy the Champ." He wanted friends and found them in "Willy and Hugh" and "Willy the Wizard." In this new Willy, which author Anthony Browne calls his "own daydream book," he shows the little fellow tackling all kinds of possibilities: being a king, a begger and a giant. We see Willy jumping over a building in a single bound, then sitting like a quiet speck in a big chair. When he dreams he is a movie star, he assumes the roles of Oz characters, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Poppins and Frankenstein, disguised but easily identifiable by his classic multicolored vest.
Whatever the feat that Willy dreams about, Browne has tucked in bananas - lots of them. There is one as a microphone, an ax blade, boat sail, shark fin and Superman's cape. There are banana ballet shoes, monster horns and elephant noses.
Typical of the artist's meticulous work are details in the full-color spreads such as drapery and wallpaper patterns (similar to those in "The Piggy Book") and tiny creatures hidden in crevices and cracks. The underwater scene discloses a hammerhead and swordfish (resembling the actual tools), a cat and dogfish and a seahorse in harness.
The subtlety of Willy in Wonderland, in an art gallery or on a science exploration is not to be missed. The final scene of Willy, both in and out of the picture, will prompt lots of discussion. Surely, Browne enjoyed his joke on the reader as much as the reader will delight in Willy's adventures.
Anthony Browne has won many credits around the world. He was nominated for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award and has won the New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book Award. In England, he was twice presented the Kurt Maschler ("Emil") Award for "work of imagination in the children's field of literature" and the Kate Greenway Medal for the "most distinguished work in illustration of children's books," which is awarded by the British Library Association.
IF YOU GIVE A PIG A PANCAKE by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond. HarperCollins, $14.95.
What would happen if . . . "you give a pig a pancake."
Children who know about these things (and remember "If You Give a Moose a Cookie" and "If You Give a Moose a Muffin") will certainly anticipate that the pig will want syrup with her pancake. And if you give her syrup, you can count on her being sticky and needing a bath. And then . . . ?
In typical Numeroff and Bond fashion, this deliciously funny story tells of a patient hostess providing a bubble bath that overflows, a pig borrowing tap shoes to dance on the table, the hostess taking pictures of the posing porcine (which she wants to send to all his friends - which means letters and stamps and running to the post office), then building a treehouse that absolutely needs wallpaper, which means the little porker becomes sticky again . . . and well, you know, it's a circle story. The bath must come, which makes the pig hungry for pancakes and . . . you got it! And the kids will, too, maybe before the adult reader. But that's OK, since these three books in a series have resulted in tons of laughs and cries of, "Let's read it again!"
The illustrations are so "seemingly simple" that they add to the fun; for example, the tidy kitchen becomes a pig-pen (pun intended!) as the pig comes to breakfast, and the little girl is found sleeping amid the mess at the end of the story.
In academic terms, "If You Give a Pig a Pancake" is a predictable book. But there's nothing predictable about the author and illustrator team. Who knows what they will stir up next for the happy appetites of young readers.