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Never mind the blue poodles
on February 22, 2004
The witty picture book is often considered to be a relatively new phenomenon. In this day and age there's an abundance of sly hip little books like "Olivia" or "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus" everywhere you look. But clever picture books are by no means a new creation. I invite you to take a gander at the 1940s Caldecott winner, "Many Moons". If you don't find it the most sublime little work of art, I daresay I'll eat my hat.
In this story a little princess of ten years (going on eleven) become ill from eating, "a surfeit of raspberry tarts". The only cure she wishes for is for someone to get her the moon. Her father, the king, calls in his cleverest advisors, but no one can think of a way to bring the princess the moon. The court jester comes up with the answer, though by the end of the tale it is the princess who has shown true wisdom.
Author James Thurber is as equally well known for his witty cartoons in the "New Yorker" as he is for his books and articles. In this little gem he has taken his audience down a notch. Recognizing that wit and long words are just as appropriate for a five year old as a person of fifty, the book contains a series of delightful asides and ideas. For example, after listing his brilliant accomplishments to the king, the Royal Wizard points out that he also gave the king a cloak of invisibility.
"It didn't work," said the King. "The cloak of invisibility didn't work."
"Yes, it did," said the Royal Wizard.
"No, it didn't," said the King. "I kept bumping into things, the same as ever."
"The cloak is supposed to make you invisible," said the Royal Wizard. "It is not supposed to keep you from bumping into things."
"All I know is, I kept bumping into thing," said the King.
That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. It's funny. It's well-thought out. And it's a joy to read. Coupled with a series of splendid illustrations by Louis Slobodkin (whose style is suspiciously reminiscent of Thurber's own) the text is complimented excellently. If you're ready to read words to your children that consist of lines like, "midgets, and mermaids, frankincense, ambergris, and myrrh", then you're in good hands with this author. To be perfectly frank, rather than write this review I'd love to just copy down the entire book word for word and show you myself how good it is. But then you wouldn't see the pretty pictures and this WAS a Caldecott winner, after all. So I'm just going to have to trust that you understand how supremely good this book is and that you'll rush right out this very minute and get it for yourself. Few books are worth such efforts, but this is one of the few.