More Animal Tales Like These, Please!

This week on the blog, Mia Spangenberg reviews two books featuring animal friendships: Snoozie, Sunny, and So-So by Dafna Ben-Zvi, with illustrations by Ofra Amit (translated from Hebrew by Annette Appel, Enchanted Lion Books, 2020) and Bicycling to the Moon by Timo Parvela, with illustrations by Virpi Talvitie (translated from Finnish by Ruth Urbom, Gecko Press, 2016).

By Mia Spangenberg

As a child, I loved stories featuring Winnie the Pooh, and Frog and Toad, and books like Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. These gentle stories imparted important lessons about difference and managing friendships, and instilled in me a great compassion toward animals. Luckily today we also have access to such stories in translation, like Enchanted Lion’s recent release of Dafna Ben-Zvi’s Snoozie, Sunny, and So-So, which in turn reminded me of Timo Parvela’s Bicycling to the Moon, a book equally deserving of attention.

So-So composing a song for her new friend Snoozie.

At just 38 pages, Ben-Zvi’s book is well-suited for early readers. The font is large and in a pale blue that matches perfectly with the other muted shades of red and gray, and readers can pause after each page to admire the beautiful illustrations by Ofra Amit.  Basically this is the tale of Snoozie the Cat and Sunny the Dog who come upon So-So, a lonely dog whose only friend has moved far away. Little So-So is “as sweet and delicate as a chocolate cream puff” (my favorite line in the book!) as well as socially anxious. Snoozie and Sunny manage to draw her out in a fun game of jumping around on the furniture (without touching the floor!) and insist that she come to Snoozie’s birthday party the next day. While So-so is very nervous about actually going to the party, she feels happier than she has in a long time and is even inspired to write a song which she presents to Snoozie as her present. Readers will be able to relate to Snoozie’s and Sunny’s enjoyment of fun games and learn that just a little bit of bravery can go a long way toward bringing new friends into your life.

Timo Parvela is one of Finland’s most well-known and awarded children’s book authors, and his book Bicycling to the Moon is a perfect companion to Ben-Zvi’s book. It’s the first book in an eight book series about fast friends Purdy the Cat and Barker the Dog, and it’s the first of any of Parvela’s books to be made available in English. Purdy and Barker are as different as apples and oranges can be: Barker is the industrious one who loves to attend to the chores that come with the seasons and owning a home while Purdy, true to his cat’s nature, likes lounging and is taken to fanciful whims. What’s satisfying about this book is that each of the 20 chapters forms their own story. While there is a seasonal progression to the ordering of the chapters, you can read the stories in any order you like and return to your favorite ones over and over again. Perhaps your favorite story will be the title story in which Purdy gets into his head that he can ride a bicycle up a moonbeam. His faithful friend Barker buys Purdy a bike and joins him on his adventure so he won’t drown in a lake.

Or it could be the story in which Purdy and Barker get really cross at each other and start a tomato war one late summer. Barker has been carefully tending his tomatoes, and he finally has a nice, big juicy one that he plans to enter in the vegetable show to win a prize. But unfortunately, Purdy has no idea of his intentions and turns his prized tomato into tomato sauce to celebrate the fact that he has just finished a 10,000 piece puzzle. While the friends initially see red, in the end they make up and invite their friends over to enjoy an enormous batch of tomato sauce.

Nature is often central in Finnish books, and here, too, Parvela masterfully conveys the passing of the seasons. In one chapter, Purdy admires the swans migrating south for the winter; in another, Purdy and Barker go on a skiing adventure, with the sunlight sparkling on the white snow. Essentially, these two friends stick together through all the seasons, despite their differences. In what may be my favorite chapter, “Perfect”, Purdy learns that he is perfect just as he is, even when he makes mistakes or does something others might find silly. To prove it, Barker fetches his skis to go to the market, even though it is spring and the snow is long gone. He is perfect old Barker, even on skis gliding over the grass. Award-winning Virpi Talvitie’s illustrations bring the tales to life.