Three sneaky episodes in the competitive life of rival artists, a lion and a stoat—and a showcase for the elegant wit of author/illustrator Zelinsky (who displays the assurance here of a much older pro). We first meet the pair as, lion in top hat and tails, stoat in scarf and beret, each critically studies a painting by the other (great-art spoofs) at the local museum—where the observant child will not only take in the rivalry at a glance (from the artists' posturings), but also spot the amusing details that Zelinsky distributes sparingly (and all the more tellingly) in his spacious compositions. Episode I has the lion and the stoat agree to a painting contest, at the marketplace. When birds peck at the lion's painted grapes, he claims victory—and challenges the stoat to unveil his painting. "There is no curtain," says the stoat. "Your still life may have fooled the birds, but my painting has fooled you." Episode II is not a guffaw, it's a gasp. (Both, we're told, are from Pliny.) Alone in the stoat's studio, the lion leaves a message—"a very thin, straight line across the middle of the canvas." The stoat, returning, leaves a message in turn—in a different color, "another, even thinner line over the one the lion had made." The lion, coming back, pronounces the result "not had." But it's his third line, "so thin it was almost invisible," that decides this second contest—as we see the stoat rushing to congratulate the lion at his sidewalk-cafe dinner. (Slightly Gallic or PÃ¨ne-du-Bois-ish, yes; whimsical or satiric, not really.) Episode III finds each painting a picture, again in competition, for the new Town Hall—and both painting self-portraits. The mayor, disconcerted, has no choice but to hang both. Meanwhile the two artists, agreeing no-more-contests, head for lunch—and a game of tic-tac-toe on the checked tablecloth. Affectionate and sparkling.
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