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Indulging your child's love of potty humor

Two new books use a winning mix of science and humor to give kids — and adults — the straight poop on a basic bodily function. Plus: More books, a DVD, and some cool new lunchboxes

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Indulging your child’s love of potty humor

BOOKS

Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable
by Nicola Davies

What Shat That
by Matt Paget

Let’s face it: Up to a certain age, kids love anything scatological. Potty jokes. Poop references. In fact, that kind of humor is natural, part of growing up (and, secretly, lots of parents still find it funny, even if they pretend to recoil). Believe it or not, there are a lot of good poop books out there; I’ve reviewed them when they come out, and some of the classics — like The Gas We Pass (my kids’ favorite), Everyone Poops, Toilets of the World, and The Truth About Poop — are serious (but not too serious) books that detail not only all there is to know about our own system of waste management, but often go into the history of toilets, sewage systems, etc.

To that small library add Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable, a clever, slyly amusing little book that explains not only what poop is, and why it’s brown, but where it goes (”The real reason we’re not up to our necks in feces is that one animal’s poop is another animal’s lunch”) and how different animals use poop (”rabbits…use latrines like bulletin boards. With tens or even thousands of rabbits living in a maze of burrows, a good sniff of a latrine keeps a rabbit up-to-date with what’s going on”).

Older kids may get a kick out of What Shat That, billed as ”a guide to species and their feces.” It’s a real guidebook; each page, anchored by a photo of the relevant scat (ugh), is accompanied by a paragraph or two of useful information. Paget says animal dung has been used ”for centuries for fuel, insulation, and fertilizer, for sport and entertainment.” Monitoring your goldfish’s poop is a good way to gauge its health. Cats can be trained to use the toilet. Koalas feed their babies poop. And finally, my favorite: If, while walking in the woods, you happen across some black bear dung? Best to move on. Quickly.

A morning devoted to poop books is more than enough for me. (I remember the days when my husband and I actually hid The Gas We Pass because we couldn’t bear to read it one more time.) But I’m willing to bet there are some kids out there who could pore over these two titles endlessly. — Tina Jordan

Poop: A-
Recommended ages: 7-10

What Shat That?: B
Recommended ages: 13 and up

The Fabulous Bouncing Chowder
Written and illustrated by Peter Brown

I was an enormous fan of last fall’s Chowder, which introduced young readers to the loveable, drooling bulldog of the title, and though I like this new installment, I feel it lacks the charm of the first book. This time, Chowder, who is not quite like other dogs — he can read, after all — decides to attend Fabu Pooch Boot Camp. But he doesn’t fit in, even when he decides to compete in the Fabu Pooch Pageant (shamelessly lured by the prize, a year’s supply of Snarf Snacks). Brown imparts a gentle, and important, lesson: Chowder succeeds, even though he is different, by pursuing something he loves. And while the vibrant illustrations pop off the page, the story just lacks magical sparkle. B-TJ
Recommended ages: Ages 3-6″]

NEW IN PAPERBACK

Where I Want To Be
Adele Griffin

They might have formed a tight bond in childhood, but sisters Lily and Jane could not be more different — and their tangled relationship grows even more knotty in adolescence. Lily, the pretty one, has a steady boyfriend; Jane, increasingly in the grip of mental illness, became ever more lost in her own world. As the story unspools — in chapters told from their alternating points of view — it becomes clear that Jane’s narration takes place after her death. Books using the alternating-chapter device are often unwieldy, but this one isn’t, and Lily’s halting search to find her own way, to deal with her sister’s passing, and to cope with her first serious boyfriend is ultimately a moving read. A-TJ
Recommended ages: 13 and up

DVD

Casper Meets Wendy: Family Fun Edition
(94 mins., 1998)

Who’s to say witches and ghosts can’t get along? That they are adversaries is the tripe that young witch Wendy (Hilary Duff ) was fed by her aunts (Cathy Moriarity, Shelley Duvall, and Teri Garr) before she joined forces with the friendly spirit to combat evil warlock Desmond Spellman (George Hamilton, whose eyebrows get a serious workout here as he’s constantly arching them to look, you know, evil). They should have called this one Family Camp Edition, but there’s no shame in enjoying the overacting and goofy dialogue — it is pure silly fun.

Watching a fresh-faced tween Duff, outfitted in overalls with a modest little-red-riding hood draped over her head, will remind you of Lindsay Lohan, back in her unspoiled Parent Trap days. There are lots of one-liners that seem to be waiting for a ba-dum-dum drumbeat: ”I’m starting to feel like I’m in the witches protection program” or ”What did the pigeon say to the statue? Pardon me, but do you have any grey poop on you?” And then there’s Duff’s emotion-choked (or as close to emotion-choked as she could get) line to Casper: ”Next week, you’ll save some other girl from a swirling vortex of doom, and you’ll forget all about it.”

Duff fans aside, most kids will grasp the lessons of teamwork and staying true to your friends no matter what, even as they’re laughing at the long green toenails on one aunt, or the other’s cries of ”I’m melting” when Casper douses them with a poolside cannonball. BEileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 5 and up

TV

Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies
PBS; check local listings

The creators of Mama have the right idea: take some animated characters — including one voiced by a big star (Vanessa Williams does a mama elephant) — and weave in some live-action footage of real animals (from the National Geographic and BBC archives) to teach preschoolers not only about creatures from the wild kingdom, but how similar they are to human beings as well. Problem is, the often compelling nature clips tend to overshadow the less-than-riveting animation. B-EC
Recommended ages: 3 and up

MISC.

Munchlers Lunch Boxes

We had a few criteria while shopping for kiddy lunchboxes — they had to be soft (those old metal crates still scare us), fit nicely in a backpack, and not turn a child into a walking advertisment. We happened upon Munchlers — featuring up to four animals that unzip to form a placemat and wipe clean in a jiff — and we couldn’t be happier. builtny.com, $9.99 — EC

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