In Neff's debut children's book, playful animals remind kids to mind their manners.
Gentle, funny phrases are often a useful tool for reminding kids to use proper behaviors. This book aims to add a few more to the toolbox: "Don't be a whino rhino." "Stand tall like a giraffe." "Be gracious and always exhibit the regal behavior of the lion." Neff depicts a series of lessons about manners as a safari. Readers meet giraffes who teach poise and confidence, penguins who teach "dignity and honor" (specifically, good table manners), lions who teach "courage and humility" (how to give and receive gifts graciously), and so on. The list is comprehensive and refreshingly old-fashioned; how many adults know to put their napkin to the left of their plate when they get up from the table, or how to do a box dance step? (Neff includes two diagrams, featuring the men's and the women's steps.) The safari conceit is clever and memorable, and sure to catch kids' attention. However, the text itself is almost certain to lose them. After a few paragraphs describing each animal, the story repeatedly resorts to bullet points—more than two dozen in one section—detailing etiquette rules. Hippos, for example, are said to "make everyone feel special by inviting everyone to swim and play along with them." But instead of using a story or example to reinforce that lesson, there's merely a list: "Do not gossip or tell lies. Do not play favorites. Accept and honor one another's differences and uniqueness; don't poke fun at the wonderful things that make us individually special." On their own, the lists are simply too abstract, and sometimes more than a little overwhelming. However, it's easy to imagine parents or teachers turning to individual sections to reinforce household rules, or as a jumping-off point to discuss specific behaviors. Many parents struggle to define the behaviors they expect from their kids, and this book may help set very clear boundaries. A dozen bright, playful illustrations, including zebras congratulating wildebeests on a good soccer game, may help kids stay focused, and perhaps even make them giggle.
A comprehensive book about manners, but one that isn't as fun, memorable or accessible as it could be.
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