Hot-Off-the-Press Pick for July’s Birthday Parties

July 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

When you watch your children practicing yoga moves in their kiddie pool, it’s easy to be struck by how differently today’s children entertain themselves than when we were growing up (yoga?). But then there are the things that never change from one generation to the next—like kids’ uncanny ability to lose themselves in imaginary play, especially if there are action figures involved. That’s why you can’t go wrong by gifting one of Mini Grey’s picture books about a combat-boots-sporting action figure named Traction Man. In the hands and imagination of one little boy, Traction Man embarks on daring missions with the help of his trusty sidekick Scrubbing Brush. The latest installment in this original series, Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey (Ages 4-7), has just been published and is perfect for your summer birthday gifts (although why not bundle it with the original Traction Man for the Best Gift Ever?). I’m continually overcome by the eerie feeling that perhaps Mini Grey sneaked into my son’s head, probably during one of his amped-up enactments of a rescue mission involving kitchen tongs and a turkey baster, and then wrote down every single thing he was thinking, in the exact tone of voice that he was thinking it in (that is, heavy in dramatic pauses, superlatives, and Capital Letters). But I suppose it’s more likely that Grey just gets what it’s like to be a kid with an unlimited potential for narrative scenarios. In his newest adventure, Traction Man (or, as JP calls him, “Action Man,” because “he’s so full of action, Mom!”) is vacationing at the beach for the first time. In addition to defending a quiche from Granny’s new puppy and heroically launching himself into the sea to save Scrubbing Brush, Traction Man meets two fellow dolls called “Beach Time Brendas” (the book’s inside cover is covered in an elaborate newspaper advertisement for Brenda, with her “fluttering eyelashes” and inflatable pink paisley dinghy). These gals at first seem like damsels in distress when their castle collapses (Traction Man springs into action: “There seems to be an earthquake going on…this structure is seriously unstable”); but it’s the Brendas who deftly organize an evacuation under the protection of a flip flop.  Proving that a girl’s action figures can keep up with a boy’s action figures any day, the book closes with the three dolls working together to erect a new and improved castle (clad in Safety Vests and Cave Helmets and working by the light of Scrubbing Brush’s flashlight). It’s refreshing to introduce our own action seekers to a new summer cast of super heroes. You won’t find any of these heroes painted on a water bottle or a beach towel: they reside snugly between the pages, and that’s something worth fighting for.

One of my favorite moments: Traction Man meets “Operation Picnic”

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