EW.com parents' guide: Get our thoughts on Nick Jr.'s ''The Wonder Pets,'' a novel about Shakespeare's daughter, and other new products for kids
The Wonder Pets
Credit: Wonder Pets: Nick Jr.

A review of Nick Jr.’s smart new show, and more

The Wonder Pets
(TV, Nick Jr., weekdays at 11:30 a.m. ET)
At first glance, Linny the guinea pig, Ming-Ming the duckling, and Tuck the turtle are your average, ordinary classroom pets. But a ringing phone (okay, actually a tin can with a string) sends them on high alert, with their first mission: impossible of the day — to save a dolphin trapped in a fishing boat’s net in Hawaii. They work together to successfully free the creature (though Ming-Ming does try, as she often does, to go it alone at first) and celebrate with a hula dance and some yummy celery.

Typical Charlie’s Angels-like operations, you say? Hold on — nearly all of the characters sing their dialogue, set to opera. (Bet you Farrah could never pull that off.) Looking at the pedigree of the show (from Oobi creator and Emmy-winning Sesame Street writer Josh Selig), along with the sophisticated music (from several Tony and Grammy-winning composers), it’s clear to see why it works.

The pets — created with a new kind of animation called photo-puppetry, using real photos of animals and locales — will appeal to most preschoolers and even older kids, since the title characters are an interesting mix of personalities: Linny’s the brainy voice of reason, Tuck’s the kind, sensitive one, and Ming-Ming is an adventurous, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-feathers kind of duckling. My only quibble is with Ming-Ming’s voice, which could strike parents as a tad too babyish (after rescuing a chimp from space, the pets celebrate with…fweeze-dwied celewy!), though I’m sure toddlers won’t mind a bit. A-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 2-6

Rabbit Ears
Book by Amber Stewart; illustrated by Laura Rankin (Bloomsbury, $16.95)
Hopscotch is a cute little bunny with very particular taste. He loves his stuffed animal, Rabbitty, whom he clutches in bed every night, and his mother’s extra-chocolaty cake. He does not like lumpy pudding, wet paws, or — most of all — having his ears washed. In fact, his patient mother has tried almost every trick imaginable to clean her little rabbit’s ears. But nothing works… until his older cousin Bobtail comes for a visit, and shows him how to be a responsible big bunny. Hopscotch is such an appealing little character that even toddlers with the dirtiest of ears might submit to the Q-tips after meeting him. A-Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 2-5

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa
Book by Erica Silverman; illustrated by Betsy Lewin (Harcourt, $15)
Spunky Cowgirl Kate and her talking horse Cocoa return in their second adventure, which is something of a rarity: a chapter book for new readers that pairs terrific illustrations with smart, funny writing that never condescends. The concepts are simple — Cocoa does not want to be shod, he wants to wear cowboy boots like Kate (until she reminds him that horseshoes bring good luck); Cocoa decides to take a dip in the river when Kate is on his back (without consulting her). The love between the girl and her horse shines through on every page. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: 6 and up

Swan Town: The Secret Journal of Susanna Shakespeare
Book by Michael J. Ortiz (HarperCollins, $15.99, Fiction)
Of William Shakespeare’s three children, only Susanna is compared to her father: Her burial inscription in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church reads, ”Witty above her sexe, but that’s not all…wise to salvation…something of Shakespeare was in that….” In Swan Town, author Ortiz imagines her early life: Because she’s a girl, 13-year-old Susanna is no longer in school, and spends her days helping her mother dry herbs, cook, and clean. ”The dreary linen wheel (vile thief of time)!” she mutters. But when she can, Susanna keeps a diary, chock-full of fascinating historical figures (Ben Johnson, Richard Burbage) and events (she attends the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe Theater, for example). Though Ortiz obviously had to embellish on the everyday details, the historical points are all correct; this is the kind of novel that makes learning history almost effortless. A-Tina Jordan
Recommended ages: 9 and up