Friday, July 30, 2010

Ol' Bloo's Boogie-Woogie Band and Blues Ensemble

Witty redo of Grimm Brothers classic
By Jan Huling
Illustrated by Henri Sorensen
$16.95, ages 4-8, 32 pages

With so many versions of the Bremen Town Musicians to choose from, why read another?

Because this one's too "uhmewzin" not to.

Set in cotton country just where the states of Louisiana and Texas rub shoulders, Huling's remake is a perfect pairing of easy-does-it old critters and Southern attitude.

The animals, all in the twilight of their lives, speak with lazy vowels, nice and slow, and greet each other with good old Southern hospitality.

As the story begins, a donkey named Ol' Bloo has just sat down after a day of hauling cotton, when he overhears Farmer Brown say he's too decrepit to be of use and must be put down.

Ol' Bloo doesn't take kindly to the farmer's sentence and high-tails it out of there before the farmer is even off his porch rocker.

Once safely away, Ol' Bloo realizes Farmer Brown had a point, even though his solution was awfully severe. For a donkey, he is past his prime. It's time he find a new career.

Having always loved his own bray -- which to anyone else would sound like an accordion tumbling down stairs -- Ol' Bloo gets a wild hair to become a singer in New Orleans.

But as he hee-haws down the road to the Big Easy, Ol' Bloo realizes he's not the only one singing.

Soon a flea-bit ol' hound dog as nasty as can be is telling Ol' Bloo his sad tale and Ol' Bloo is welcoming him along on the journey.

Every few miles, they take in another golden-throated varmint, screeching the blues.

Next is an orange tabby with an eye patch who was booted out of his mistress's cottage, followed by a raggedy red rooster who lost his job waking up folks after they started using an alarm clock instead.

By evening, as the traditional tale goes as well, the band of old critters spy a cabin full of vittles, in this case a heap of gumbo, po-boys, muffalettas and bread pudding, belonging to three rough and tough thieves.

Thinking they can earn some of the feast, the animals pile on top of each other outside the robbers' window and shriek out a number so frightening, the thieves run for the lives into the forest.

After the sound dies down, one of the robbers sneaks back to the cabin to claim the loot, only to get stomped on and shrieked at when he startles the animals awake.

As the robber flees for good, Ol' Bloo, Gnarly Dog, One-Eyed Lemony Cat and Rusty Red Rooster decide to stick around and indulge in the nice set up.

They never do make it to New Orleans, and instead spend their last years, lazing about in a hammock, rolling in the grass and belting out wretched tunes that only the four of them could ever appreciate.

Final Thoughts: This redo is a charmer. You'll love the laid-back setting and fun language, as well as Sorensen's soft sleepy paintings, which make the animals look as if they just woke up and never slept all at once.

Though the paintings are wonderfully cozy, what makes Sorensen's illustrations soar above others are his finely cut silhouettes that appear every couple of pages to show the animals moving on down the road.

Every silhouette is overlaid with white type describing the troupe on its way to the next scene and makes the storytelling come alive.

So sit for a spell and warm up your vowels. This remake is as sweet on the ear as it is on the eye, and "sumpn" special to read aloud.

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