These illustrated short stories concern ethical dilemmas, fears, and hard choices.
Most of these eight tales are apparently set in the present day, and many of the protagonists are children. In “Tip Top Finds Hope,” the title character, about age 12, is “slow at learning.” He’s lonely and sad, spending many hours sitting on the stoop outside, where kids torment him. His mother just tells him to “speak up for yourself.” He prays for someone to play with. One day, a man appears and gathers the neighborhood kids, reminding them of the golden rule. After that, Tip Top has hope and strength, and the local boys ask him to play. Other stories teach similar morals, as in “Victor Learns a Lesson” (about not saying mean things behind others’ backs) and “The Onion” (don’t shoplift). Some tales also focus on moral choices but feature adults, like “Jennifer’s Luck,” about a 60-year-old woman with unattractive features, such as (puzzlingly) “eyes shaped like peanuts.” Children mock her; adults pity her. An angel, whose fate is tied to Jennifer’s, offers her a choice: She can be young again and ugly or pretty and old. She chooses youth at first, then beauty, but despite the advantages of each (Jennifer loves it when construction workers whistle at her), she decides to accept herself as she originally was. When a little boy starts in on her looks, she sneers at him: “Are you sure you have a face to be proud of?” The boy’s friend takes her side, and Jennifer feels a great inner peace. The final work, “The Stone King,” is set in a mythical kingdom where its rich and tyrannical ruler learns the error of his ways through love and forgiveness.
These clear, well-intentioned stories deliver some intriguing situations and diverse characters. But as is in common with many writers of morality tales, Frazier (Decisions, 2009, etc.) presents solutions that tend to be unconvincingly simplistic. For example, it usually takes more than one talk to transform a neighborhood of bullies. And getting over bad dreams will surely require more than the one encouraging speech and special talisman featured in “Nightmares.” Meanwhile, “The End of an Era,” in which a boy’s father has forced him to arm-wrestle since the age of 6, seems to glorify aggression. The parent’s treatment makes the boy strong enough, at 14, to challenge and win a bloody victory from the school bullies taking his money. The next day, “word had gotten out that I was crazy,” and his cash was safe. Is this the golden rule? In addition, the author’s dialogue is sometimes stilted, and she overuses ellipses, as in this example from “Victor Learns a Lesson”: “ ‘I don’t really like Lorrance…with his fat self.’ I think he has an odor.” The rather flat, uncredited illustrations often render human figures clumsily, as when an ice cream stick thrown at Tip Top appears to be jutting from his head like an off-center unicorn’s horn. A few pictures have more energy, and the images do show the cast’s varied skin tones.
This well-meant collection offers few realistic solutions.