Books by Ellen Raskin

THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin
Released: May 1, 1978

A supersharp mystery, more a puzzle than a novel, but endowed with a vivid and extensive cast. In the Christie tradition, Raskin isolates a divers group of strangers—the mysteriously hand-picked tenants of a new apartment building within sight of the old Westing mansion—and presents them with the information that one of them is the murderer. Actually, it turns out that there is no corpse, but no one is aware of that when they are all assembled for a reading of old Westing's fiendish will, which pairs them all off and allots each pair four one-word clues to the murderer's identity. As the winning pair is to inherit Westing's fortune, there is much secret conferring, private investigating, far-out scheming, and snitching and scrambling of the teasing, enigmatic clues. (For example, those of black judge Josie Jo Ford, which she takes for a racial insult, read SKIES AM SHINING BROTHER.) As a result of the pairings, alliances are made and suspended, and though there is no murderer there is a secret winner—the pigtailed youngest of the "heirs"—plus extravagant happy endings for all. As Westing had warned, all are not what they seem, and you the reader end up liking them better than you expected to. If Raskin's crazy ingenuity has threatened to run away with her on previous occasions, here the complicated game is always perfectly meshed with character and story. Confoundingly clever, and very funny. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 18, 1976

Unquestionably, Ellen Raskin is a genuine kook. However, that doesn't prevent her originality from lapsing into over-ingenuity, which is what happens here. At the start, the little road signs pointing left to "front cover" and "jacket" and right to (pages) "twenty-two, twenty-three" are appreciably witty touches, but wit turns to manner when the whole book becomes nothing but an overburdened journey to "twenty-two, twenty-three," with the only topic of discussion being a mouse's proper costume for the trip—debated at artificial and tiresome length by her fellow travelers: the bear in his underwear, the frogs in clogs, the cock in the smock, the dove with gloves on his feet, and too many such others. The pictures of course are more clever, but, in the end, too clever. Spiffy and elegant, the animals regroup themselves from page to page in jumbled, confusing arrangements that make no sense at all until, on the climactic double-spread pages twenty-two and twenty-three, they have formed a Christmas tree shape and a red suited Santa (the bear) and spelled out the message "Merry New Year." In our view, it's a head trip that will attract few passengers. Read full book review >
Released: April 28, 1975

"Timothy Hay sounds like a fake name," remarks the heroine—oddly, since hers is Dickory Dock, her brother is Donald Dock, and others who make their appearance at and around the Greenwich Village row house where she works include rich collector Julius Panzpresser, fellow art student George Washington III, underworld lackey Shrimps Marinara, elusive artist Roy G. Bliv (to be found not in Who's Who but in the spectrum), three Eldon F. Zyzyskczuks (an exporter on 743 East 84th St., an importer on 734 West 84th St., and a forger who takes advantage of the mix-up in their credit cards—actually, all three are one and the same), and four detectives named Winkle (the blind man), Dinkel (the derelict), Finkel (the exterminator) and Hinkle (the hippy). This bizarre company performs its briskly choreographed masquerade in a series of manic EncyClopedia Brownish cases, set within the larger mystery involving two murdered blackmailers and the identity of Dickory's disguise-happy artist boss, Garson (a/k/a Inspector Noserag, which is almost Garson spelled backwards, and—in the guise of a tattooed sailor—Christina Rossetti), who either is or has murdered the genius Edgar Sonneborg. Strangely enough, simply by piling and tangling up ali the name games and disguises that seem at first just mechanically ludicrous, Raskin wears down your resistance, so that by the time everyone is happily united in jail you'll be laughing as inarticulately as the brain-damaged, one-eyed, deaf-mute, Isaac Bickerstaffe (formerly Frederick Schmaltz). Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1974

One day a big wind blew. Trees fell and a gas pump flew. From somewhere a red roof spun through the air and came down with a BUMP!" From that relatively straightforward introduction Raskin launches into one of her nonsensical plays on the sound and sight and independent existence of words. The gas pump and red roof (the latter, really a sort of detached attic, inhabited by a young mouse) land effectively in the laps of a moose and a goose — who, reading the sign, decide that their small visitor must be a gas. ("Hello Gas.") Mouse's protests (he thinks he's a Moose, but the others know better) send all three on a search for his mother, his house and his name, and different signs and structures along the way suggest to Moose and Goose that the mouse is a lion, a phone, a bus, a mail and a stop. (This last is Goose's conclusion, though Moose argues, "No, no, his name is Go.") Children, more in touch than literate adults are with words as physical objects, will probably find all this funnier than we do — but it's justified at any level by the turnabout that follows: when the three finally do come to a small, roofless red house complete with waiting mother, Goose and Moose are sure that their friend is a snow — an error easily understood when you see the arrow-shaped sign labeled "mouse" turned upside down, and easily remedied when the now happy mouse, no longer a nobody, turns it right side round. Demonstrating not only the satisfaction of having a home, a mother, and an identity and the importance of words in providing the last of the three, but proving also Raskin's ability (less evident in Who Said Sue and Moe Q. McGlutch) to inform her silly situations and crisp, witty pictures with some unobtrusive psychological substance. Read full book review >
FIGGS & PHANTOMS by Ellen Raskin
Released: April 1, 1974

Except for her beloved Uncle Florence Italy Figg, a 4'6" mail order book dealer who with his niece forms the Figg-Newton monster (a stunt that enables them to reach the rare and unusual books on Ebenezer Bargain's top shelf), Mona Lisa Newton has no use for her kooky relatives. All former performers except for Mona's mother (Sis) who makes up for it by tap-tappity-tap-tapping around the house, the Figgs are without doubt an unusual family, well deserving both the scorn and the attention their fellow citizens of Pineapple express in italicized inserts. Take their ritual of Caprification, based on an ancestor's vision of heaven. As "each one must find his own Capri," Romulus Figg intends to look under the Niagara Falls but his twin Remus thinks Capri is not a place at all but lies in numbers, and Truman Figg the human pretzel expects to get there as soon as he can twist his body into a Moebius band ("I've got it just about worked out except for one elbow"). But Uncle Flo insists that the answer is in books (Read, Mona, read!), and it is indeed through a book, Las Hazanas Fantasticas by one Pirata Supuesto, that he finds his Capri — for Uncle Flo dies, leaving Mona bereft and more withdrawn now than ever. It is not until she follows him to the imaginary island of Caprichos ("floating through swirling nothingness") that Mona realizes that she has "a lot of remembering to do, a lot of living and learning and loving to do" — and is somehow able to return, to life, aided no doubt by the unique bedside encouragements (Sis' tap dancing, Truman's contortions, Remus' fractions, cousin Fido's guilty sympathy) of her frantic relations. As must be evident this is even crazier than Raskin's Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (KR, 1971), but the zaniness here seems more often forced than inspired, and though the answer to the puzzle is made clear when the time comes, the question remains elusive. Still a juvenile novel — however unstrung — that takes such farcical liberties with death, grief and readers' expectations is rare enough to rate a hearing, and the Figgs — all mask and gesture though they are — do come up with a few show-stopping lines. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1973

Instead of dressing up an anti-smoking message in comic clothing, Ellen Raskin outdoes the Victorian spoof, using Moe's dangerous habit as an occasion for pure farce — and for parading her stylishly flamboyant menagerie. There are the vibrantly striped and colorfully attired zebra family Zack, Zelda Mae and Little Zeke, there is their rich cousin Moe Q. McGlutch, a donkey whom they visit in his domed and minareted orange-red palace, there are elephant fire fighters (required by Moe's frequent smoking accidents), an elegant ram serving ice cream, a billowing fish monster and — in the same shades of green — a dragon, attracted by Moe's smoke rings, who eventually carries the donkey off. Thus Little Zeke, who has been telling his cousin all along that he smokes too much, is proven correct — and for his wisdom inherits all of Moe's wealth. It's fun to read the pictures for details the words don't tell, but it's sometimes hard to see the smoke signals for all of Raskin's brilliant visual patterns. Read full book review >
WHO, SAID SUE, SAID WHOO? by Ellen Raskin
Released: March 21, 1973

Raskin is playing with sounds as well as pictures here and it's not hard to imagine an echoing chorus wherever her cumulative caper is read aloud. Who said whoo is easily answered and it's also evident as Sue drives along in her open car, acquiring more and more animal passengers, that "The honeydew snake said shoo!/ The chimp has a cold: A-choo!/ Two pigs said spitter-spatter;/ Gnitter-gnatter said the gnu" — and so on through the remarks of the billy goat's ghost (boo), the kangaroo, the goose, the shrew, the cross-eyed owl (who said whoo) and the polka dot cow (moo). But the unanswered question throughout is who said chitter-chatter, and all but the chimp (remember his cold) scatter (saying PHEW!) when it turns out to be a skunk. "Moral: Words aren't everything." True. It's fun to spot each newcomer amid the changing foliage too. Read full book review >
FRANKLIN STEIN by Ellen Raskin
Released: March 18, 1972

Like his once-removed namesake, Franklin Stein labors alone in a creaky old house and brings forth a monster — this one named Fred and made of a mop, potato masher, necktie, skateboard, slats, fan, lamp, rake, feathers, etc. Franklin's family and neighbors and some wildly assorted passersby label Fred "WICKED ABOMINABLE DUMB SINISTER ATROCIOUS WEIRD REVOLTING" — until he wins the pet show blue ribbon and the judge's citation: "ORIGINAL CREATIVE ARTISTIC SUPERB." Raskin echoes the words in the pictures (via cartoon-like balloons) to crisply comic effect, and she gives a sly parting turn to the screw when Franklin, bent on making a friend for Fred (who has helped Franklin find a friend), is depicted on the last page asking the butcher for "ONE HEART TWO LUNGS TWO KIDNEYS." Moral support for the lonely genius, and — being Raskin — it's ORIGINAL, CREATIVE and ARTISTIC. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 29, 1971

"Noel glub C blub all. . . I glub new. . . ." These are the last words that Mrs. Carillon hears from her sinking husband before she herself is hit on the head by their capsizing boat and the two of them are taken to the hospital. They are also the first words she has heard from him since they were married at five and seven to cement a soup factory partnership and the young husband was sent away to school, but the devoted Mrs. Carillon spends the next 21 years assiduously searching for Leon (or Noel, as he calls himself) and trying to solve the glub-blubs. She glimpses him once in Bloomingdale's, but he's on the down escalator and she's on the up, and her attempts to get to him only result in her being sent to the Women's House of Detention for inciting to riot. It would be impossible to summarize subsequent events, which progress from the ridiculous to the preposterous, and equally unsporting to disclose the puzzle's solution (which hinges on a horse named Christmas Bells**), but with the help of childhood friend Augie Kunkel (a stammering crossword puzzle-maker whose avocation is nouns) and her adopted twins Tony and Tina, all ends happily at Thanksgiving dinner with a double wedding, a cellmates' reunion, and the promise of fame and fortune all round. The story is as current as the shaved and saffron-robed protesters who help "Free Mrs. Carillon" (or "Free the Orphans' Mother") from the Pest Hole, the pictures (made of words and asterisks) are part of the werbal fun, and the whole's a flamboyantly nimble farce. **a clue Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 8, 1970

Anyone can read A & THE—the words that is, printed in boldface throughout the text: but the child who looks for them assiduously is apt to lose the thread of a tricky story, while on the other hand if he doesn't see T & C and recognize them when tie sees them, he may miss the point. To a block very like the one where Nothing Ever Happened comes William T. C. Baumgarten. He looks a prig anyhow and "T.C." convulses Horace and Morris and Luke, only Doris having the good sense/ goodwill to ask what the T. stands for. They can of course make nothing of The (it's not short for Theodore; might T. refer—great giggles—to toilet?) until on tire newcomer's first day of school Miss Goodapple relates, at some length and with Bayeux Tapestry-like insets, the story of William the Conqueror. Instantly Morris and Horace and Luke take notice, and turn around beaming. Whereupon "William The Conqueror Baumgarten, Iris head held high, . . smiled back a! his new friends" (re)producing the grin on the face of the first William. That smile is almost worth the discomfort of being peppered with boldface letters (sometimes in signs like EAT) and exposed to a history lesson—though we were glad to see one scholar snoozing: Miss Raskin's insight matches her outreach and usually she balances the two better. Read full book review >
AND IT RAINED by Ellen Raskin
Released: Oct. 17, 1969

With one eye cocked on the weather, another on the clock, the tension mounts. . . will the pig, the parrot and the potto ever have a proper tea? Daily they assemble at four, repeatedly it rains at five after—"The tea is weak," squeals the pig; "The biscuits are soggy," squawks the parrot; "Our tea party is ruined!" cries the potto (a curly-eared cousin, to a panda), How to get round the rain? Every tactic fails until the potto makes allowances for the weather by serving, very hard biscuits and weak, weak tea. "It rained and it rained, and it rained some more. The rain softened the biscuits; the rain weakened the tea. . . `Hurrah! Our tea party is not ruined!' " So they carry on contentedly except for "one rare day, the sixteenth of September two years ago. That day it didn't rain." The "all-star cast of characters," singled out at the close, includes lanky bird-watcher Sir Benjamin, two bongos, and the bespectacled author. . . who merits applause for another impeccable cockeyed creation. Read full book review >
Released: March 21, 1969

A dramatic confrontation in speechless pictures and two voices; one a poltergeist who wants to play and eat mustard pickles, the other a rhyming rundown—as per The House That Jack Built—of the family and relatives who fill the four-room apartment. The ghostly voice knocks, taps, rings and speaks its mind on one (black) page, the people are presented on the facing (white) page: "Here is Harry, strong and able,/ Father of Doris, dressed in plaid,/ Father of Horace, good and bad,/ Who lives in a four-room apartment." And overleaf is a double-page spread in color of the apartment and its inhabitants rent asunder by the poltergeist (who at one point decides, because he likes Grandmother Sarah who wears hats, that everyone should have something on his head). Ellen Raskin's most creative construct—no one will give up this ghost. Read full book review >
SPECTACLES by Ellen Raskin
Released: March 20, 1968

Chester Filbert, to whom nothing ever happens (On My Block), has a friend named Iris Fogel to whom all sorts of surprising things happen: a fire-breathing dragon turns into Greataunt Fanny (juxtaposed against house, pine tree and path): a giant pigmy nuthatch becomes Chester himself (muffled and on skis, juxtaposed against two passing cars); a fuzzy green caterpillar ("'Where?' the teacher shrieked") is Iris' class lined up in little chairs. So it goes until mother takes her to a blue elephant who says—"Iris needs glasses!" After the climax is no anticlimax, and youngsters, nearsighted or not, will be laughing up to the last page. You'll be tempted to take off your glasses too-Spectacles shouldn't be missed. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 15, 1967

Ellen Raskin is surely one of the most witty, ingenious and versatile illustrators going, and this is distinctly successful as a demonstration of her many artistic talents, less satisfying as a collection of light verses. Many are no-sense nonsense, snappy pop-outs only; a few are funny extensions of the commonplace (like Jake's long swim through the Great Lakes—"Michigan then/ Made him wearier,/ Poor Jake drowned/ In Lake Superior") or ephemeral but fastidious fables (the mouse who lives in a house "All made of dandelion/ Puffs,/ Puffs/ Puffs"—"You are welcome to his cheese/ But please don't sneeze"); in some cases where the verse itself is insignificant, the pictures extend the concept. Kids will love the look of the book, pick and choose among the pages. Read full book review >
Released: March 22, 1966

Chester Filbert is the obverse of the little boy who saw it all on Mulberry Street. A dour faced little boy, he never moves from his crouch on the curb. Nor does he turn around to look at the too-familiar Victorian houses on his block which are precisely and geometrically outlined in black and white. Chester is sunk in a slough of boredom, a total inability to find anything interesting in his surroundings but completely convinced that everywhere else there is excitement. The roots of his ennui can be deduced—his house is austere, tightly shuttered, nobody there reacts to what is happening in the neighborhood, in fact the only person who emerges is a nursemaid who occasionally tries to call Chester inside. But in all the other houses and on the sidewalk and street, brilliantly colored people and things emerge and, as the pages are turned, an overlapping series of exciting near-tragedies and triumphs. The pictorial counterpoint to Chester's claim to dissatisfaction offers hours of diversion to children who will find themselves picking out first the obvious then the many minute details, each a complex narrative in itself, as well as a graphic illustration of the sort of atmosphere that can turn a little boy into an unnoticing nobody. Read full book review >