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Book review

The Importance of Frank and Ernest

It recently occurred to me that it might be interesting to conduct a scientific survey of the readers of this column — you know, find out your likes and dislikes, color preferences, bank balances, that sort of thing. Since all the big polling firms were busy taking surveys to determine why no one pays any attention to their surveys anymore, I was forced to fall back on tea leaves and a dusty ouija board for my study, but, in any case, the results were striking. My average reader has, according to my data, 1.5 cars, 6.3 television sets (for shame!), and 3.25 children.

I don’t know what kind of mileage you folks get in that 1/2 car, but the revelation that there were all those kiddies in close proximity to my column set me to thinking. Why not get the little ones interested in something intellectual at an early age, before all those televisions you’re harboring rot their tiny minds beyond repair? Why not, in fact, get the little munchkins interested in learning about words and language as soon as they can read?

No sooner had this thought crossed my mind than a friend drew my attention to two remarkably nifty books for very young children. Written and illustrated by Alexandra Day, “Frank and Ernest” and “Frank and Ernest Play Ball” (Scholastic) recount the adventures of two friends — Frank (a bear) and Ernest (an elephant) — as they run other people’s businesses while the owners go on vacation. In the first book, the duo takes over the operation of a diner, while in the second, they run a baseball team for a week.

Both books are beautifully written and illustrated, but better yet, in a stroke of brilliance, Ms. Day has made the focus of each story the process of Frank and Ernest learning the specialized jargon of each of their temporary occupations. They learn to say “mats” for pancakes, “popeye” for spinach, and “houseboat” for banana split, for instance, in their diner adventure, and baseball teaches them the lingo of the dugout, including “phenom,” “payoff pitch” and “scroogie.” These are wonderful books, and I hope Alexandra Day continues the series.



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