ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Book review: 'Dick and Jane and Vampires'

BookVampires (supernatural entitiess)

Fanged characters have sunk their teeth — sorry about that — into the adult and young adult book markets, so is it really a surprise to find a new children's book called "Dick and Jane and Vampires" (Grosset & Dunlap: 144 pp., $9.99, ages 5 and up)?

The original "Dick and Jane" series dates to the 1930s, when educators Zerna Sharp and William S. Gray were looking for a way to help young children develop their reading skills. Now Laura Marchesani and illustrator Tommy Hunt have teamed to continue the pair's adventures, featuring a smiling bloodsucker who just wants to make friends and encounters the children in all kinds of daffy situations.

It might be hard to believe, but this vampire is a little shy. Even though he looks like a cross between Ricky Ricardo and "Saturday Night Fever's" Tony Manero, he doesn't seem to handle rejection well. So he approaches Dick and Jane cautiously: In the book's first stories, he appears only as a bat that wrecks a hanging mobile and drives Puff, their pet cat, bonkers. Soon, however, the vampire is following this cherubic pair and their parents around town in his stylish cape and before long becomes an accepted playmate, even squeezing into a stroller so that Jane can pretend he's her baby!

Hunt's art captures the style of the original series illustrations dead-on (or is that undead-on?), while Marchesani's sentences, stripped to basic subject/predicate, are sometimes a little unexpectedly chilling: "No, Sally! Do not go outside. There is something outside." But don't worry — the story never turns deadly. Why not? Because the vampire gets a girlfriend! And you know what having an immortal ladylove means: "Vampire is happy. Happy, happy, happy!"

"Any time you are able to engage a child with a book, you are doing your job as a publisher … parent, teacher, babysitter," explained Francesco Sedita, Grosset & Dunlap's publisher. He said that one of his editors stood up during a brainstorming session and "simply said the words 'Dick and Jane and Vampires.' The room was silent. It was just such a smart, organic, wonderful idea. And we moved on it quickly."

Collectors of vampire memorabilia need a copy of this book: It deserves a place in their collections next to that box of Count Chocula cereal and the puppet of "Sesame Street's" Count Von Count. A copy of this book should also go into a time capsule: It's a good way to show future generations what was going on in American pop culture circa 2010. And at least a few parents with small children will have fun with this book as bedtime reading without worrying about causing bad dreams. In fact, I can think of at least one child who would probably have this book on her nightstand: Renesmee Cullen, daughter of "Twilight's" Edward Cullen and Bella Swan.

nick.owchar@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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