Friday, December 10, 2010

36. Two Cautionary Tales

Flora's Very Windy Day, written by Jeanne Birdsall, illustrated by Matt Phelan, Clarion, $16, ages 4-8, 32 pages. Flora is fed up that little brother Crispin' makes a mess of everything that she does and she's the one who's blamed for it. So when Mother sends Flora outside with Crispin' to put an end to another mess, Flora doesn't feel very sisterly. She goes off in a snit and acts like she doesn't care that Crispin's boot aren't as wind-worthy as hers. Flora has super-special heavy-duty red boots and Crispin's are, well, regular old purple boots. Outdoors the wind is howling and as waves of leaves wash into her, Flora laughs at the wind and taunts it to try to lift her up. The wind doesn't like to be scoffed at and triples its strength, and though Flora doesn't budge, Crispin' begins to tumble up into the air. As Flora watches his scared little face drift away, all of her spite washes away. In a flash, she leaps out of her boots, spreads her coat to the wind and is swept up after him.

In mid-air, Flora grabs his hand and closes her eyes, wishing she could be anywhere else. But soon, the air feels like a squishy flying chair and Flora opens her eyes. As Flora and Crispin bounce along on the wind, they meet six things in the sky that want to take Crispin' for their own, including a dragonfly that wants Crispin for polishing her wings, a cloud that wants him for squeezing out its raindrops and the man on the moon, which is lonely and just wants his company. But each time, Flora rebuffs their requests, "He's my brother and I'm taking him home." But will the wind ever let her, especially since she wanted to get rid of him? Sweet and tender, this might be just the story to get too grumpy kids to let go of the small stuff and stop their squabbling.

Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse, and Was Eaten by a Lion, by Hilaire Belloc, illustrated by Mimi Grey, Knopf Delacorte, $19.99. ages 3 and up, 26 pages. Listen up, whippersnappers! The next time adults prattle off aphorisms about good behavior or cross-stitch them into samplers (and hang them on endpapers, as this book's creators do) take heed. Remember the fate of Jim, who failed to listen to his parent's advice and found himself in the belly of a lion. Now, Jim was a lucky boy (that is, before he was swallowed up). His friends gave him many things, tea and cakes, jam and chocolate, and read to him through and through. They even took him to the zoo. But Jim had one "especial foible, / He ran away when he was able." And on one particularly "inauspicious" day at the zoo, he ran away from his nurse and into the hungry mouth of a lion. Each miserable moment thereafter is recanted (in uproarious detail) when you pull down a flap that is Jim's body from the neck down: "Just /Imagine / How it / Feels / When first your toes / And then your / Heels / And then by / Gradual degrees / Your shins and ankles / Calves and Knees…," the verse goes from his neck to his toes. Though a zoo keeper "almost ran" to help Jim, only a dainty morsel of the boy was left in the end. Jim's father, always prudent and properly composed, then bade all children from here on out to, "attend / To James' / Miserable / End, And always keep / a-hold of Nurse / for fear of finding / Something worse." Wickedly fun, this clever book will remind Maurice Sendak fans of Pierre: A Cautionary Tale, but with the added kick of fold-outs, flaps and a pouncing pop-up.

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