Children’s books tell of spy dad’s missions, curious mole family

  • “Spy Dad”

  • “Eeny, Meeny, Miney Mole”

For the Recorder
Tuesday, July 03, 2018


By Jukka Laajarinne

Illustrated by Timo Mänttäri

Crocodile Books/Interlink Publishing Group


Olivia loves her dad — but she’s frustrated at how little time he spends at home. It’s not that he’s out having fun at night on his own or that he’s a workaholic: He’s a spy who has many important missions to accomplish, like escaping from being tied up and then detonating a bomb at the bad guys’ hideout.

In “Spy Dad,” by Crocodile Books, a children’s book imprint of Interlink Publishing Group of Northampton, Finnish writer Jukka Laajarinne has fun tweaking the theme of working parents and children who need more time with them.

At the beginning of the story, for instance, Olivia calls her dad “at work” to ask him if she could get a hamster. “Could we talk about it this weekend?” her father responds, one hand on a cell phone, the other clinging to the bottom of a helicopter flying over a city. “I’m a little busy right now.”

It turns out, though, that dad is thinking of making a few changes in his life, and Olivia is delighted when, finally back home, he announces he’s leaving his job. He and Olivia hit the road in his sleek car and head to the country to sleep in the woods and enjoy the peace and quiet.

There are some more twists and turns — like when dad’s car mysteriously blows up as he and Olivia are having lunch in a roadside cafe — and dad will also need to find another source of income, but Olivia is happy with the new arrangement.

The comic-book style illustrations of Timo Mänttäri — they recall something of the graphics of “The Incredibles” movie series — offer a bit of a subplot about the way dad’s spy past continues to follow him around. Maybe, in fact, he’s not quite ready to give up on that cool job entirely ...


By Jane Yolen

Illustrated by Kathryn Brown

Crocodile Books/Interlink Publishing Group


The indefatigable Jane Yolen of Hatfield, who earlier this year released her 365th book — she has a Twitter hashtag marking the event, #Yolen365 — has since added to that total, with a re-issue of one of her earlier children’s books, “Eeny, Meeny, Miney Mole,” this time published by Interlink Publishing Group of Northampton.

The title, a play on the old children’s counting rhyme, actually refers to the story’s three protagonists: three mole sisters who live at the bottom of a “deep, dark hole” in which “dark was light, day was night, and summer and winter seemed the same.”

Eeny, the youngest of the three, meets a few other critters — a worm, a centipede, a snake — as she’s burrowing around the hole, who tell her something astonishing: that the world “Up Above” has both dark and light, day and night, and summer and winter.

But when Eeny relays this information to Meeny and Miney, the two older sisters dismiss it out of hand. “Nonsense and silliness!” the two say, as they tell Eeny that worms, centipedes and snakes can’t be trusted,

Eeny, though, can’t stop thinking about what she’s heard; she wonders if summer and winter are “low or high,” for instance, or if they’re young or old, or maybe “damp and clumpy like the dirt on the underside of the hole or dry and crumbly like the dirt near the top.”

Eventually, of course, she has to see for herself and digs her way up, where she finds the world of “Up Above” a marvel, with light and shadow, a moistness in the air and a murmur all around “of bees and trees, of showers and flowers, of tadpoles and tidepools and crinkly grass.”

The sweetness of the story is matched by the watercolor illustrations of Kathryn Brown, also of western Massachusetts, who adds some fine details — the acorn carriage Eeny uses for pulling around her doll, the glasses that perch on the end of Meeny’s long snout — to add humor to the tale.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.