Schwulst’s picture book portrays an African folktale about the tortoise and his shell.
Thomas the tortoise, soft and wrinkled in body, searches for shelter on a “cold, dark and stormy night.” Finding none, he seeks warmth and a nap in the morning on a rock warmed by the sun. Monkeys wake him by chattering about the lion king’s malady, from which he will surely die. Skeptical, Thomas sets out to see for himself. At the king’s camp, Thomas finds Victor the Vulture. Victor confirms the king’s grave illness and says the only cure is for the lion to consume a pile of nuts, but no one can crack them open. Edward the Elephant could do it, but he stubbornly refuses. Kindhearted Thomas gets an idea and waddles off to bring Edward to the camp. As he goes, the monkeys laugh at the idea that a “small squishy tortoise” like Thomas could make Edward do anything. Thomas says that if he does bring Edward back, they all must kneel and must call him, Thomas, king. The monkeys laugh at this joke but say they will do as Thomas asks. Thomas finds Wilma Warthog, who agrees to dig a hole, deep and wide, and fill it with the nuts. Thomas finds Edward and tells him all the animals want him to be king and that they’ve invited him to a feast. Edward immediately booms agreement and scoops Thomas up on his back for the trek to the king’s camp. The monkeys greet them, kneel and yell, “All hail the King.” Edward sticks out his chest, boasting and strutting, until he falls into the hole, where he stomps and stomps until all the nuts are crushed and made into a stew. The stew heals the king, and Thomas wins his protective shell. The story and characters are delightful, but the illustrations are dark and out of harmony with the optimism of Thomas’ tale. Rhyme and rhythm are used erratically, which makes for awkward reading. Confusing punctuation errors appear throughout the text.
An inconsistent but imaginative, clever tale in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.
In this debut middle-grade novel, a lonely boy finds friendship and learns about the magic of human connection.
Defined by the large mole on his lip, 10-year-old Gregory has grown distant from his family. He is friendless and withdrawn. Then one night a strange little creature emerges from Gregory’s mole. It is riding a (quite lovable) cockroach and can change size. This is the Grimbockle. The Grimbockle—one of many Bockles, who, like Palmer Cox’s Brownies, live at the peripheries of human awareness—tends to the exoodles that bind people together. Exoodles are long, transparent, noodlelike threads and are usually invisible. Once Gregory has his eyeballs painted with Carrot Juicy, though, he can see them. He joins the Grimbockle and the roach, traveling the exoodles as if on a high-speed roller coaster. Exoodles wither and die when people don’t look after their relationships. The Grimbockle is trying to repair a particularly sickly exoodle that links a boy to his mother. Can Gregory help—and can he mend the exoodles in his own life? Schubert follows delightedly in the footsteps of Roald Dahl, opening her unfortunate young protagonist’s eyes to a previously unseen world both weird and wondrous (yet for all its outlandish magic, oddly logical). The scenario is one of riotous imagination, while the Grimbockle himself—brought sweetly to life in black-and-white illustrations by Kraft—is a sprightly and good-natured little person, full of the type of singsong infelicities found in Dahl’s beloved nonhuman characters: “Is you ever seeing glimpses of squiggles in the corners of your twinklers but then they is disappearing in a snippety blink?” “ ‘Exoodles!’ shouted the Grimbockle in triumph. ‘Sometimes, hoo-mans is getting so twisty and wound up in extra exoodles that they is feeling gloomy blue and heavy all day long.’ ” The story is perhaps too much of a parable to fully match Dahl’s template; the adventure is safer and the threats less dark. Nonetheless, readers should fall willingly and with thrilled abandon into the fizzy, fanciful world of Gregory and his Grimbockle friend.
A beautifully realized daydream; a fun yet thoughtful exploration of the complexities and possibilities hidden beneath surface appearances.
A lost bunny searches for his mother in this debut picture book.
The youngster is already lost in the beginning of Lakhiani’s version of the time-honored tale of a lost child reuniting witha parent. On a foggy day, a young rabbit finds that he doesn’t recognize where he is. He calls for his mother, but instead of her voice in response, he hears the hum of a bumblebee. The nameless little rabbit asks if the bee knows where his home is, but the bee doesn’t and sends him on to the wise owl, who “sees everything.” As the little rabbit runs through the “eerie” fog toward the owl’s tree, he meets a kind squirrel. “I’ve lost my mother….I am lost and scared,” explains the little rabbit. The squirrel leads the rabbit to the wise owl’s tree, which the rabbit climbs to ask the owl, “[C]an you see where I live?” The fog is too thick for the owl to spot little rabbit’s home, so he gives the little rabbit a snack and invites him to rest. Falling asleep, the little rabbit dreams of his mother but is awakened by the hooting, buzzing and chattering of his three new friends. Looking around, he sees his mother, who embraces him: “I will never again let you out of my sight,” she tells him. The digitized art by Adams, some of which is credited to Thinkstock, is in a cartoon style that clearly delineates the characters but includes a few anthropomorphic details—a graduation cap for the owl, spectacles for the squirrel and only four legs for the bee—that add little value. Since the story centers on the little rabbit failing to recognize where he is, the choice to make the right-hand page of every spread identical is potentially confusing; regardless, it’s repetitious. The text fails in the opposite direction: It doesn’t create the typical patterns that can help toddlers follow the story, build anticipation and learn to chime in—steps on the path to reading alone. Erratic rhythms, changing stanza lengths and rhyme schemes, and awkward syntax undercut attempts to enliven the tale with poetry.
A story with a tried-and-true plot that needs to freshen up its presentation.