CROOKJAW by Caron Lee Cohen


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This fanciful story has its roots in New England whaling lore, from a time when witches were thought to inhabit the bellies of the more vicious whales. As Cohen (Pigeon, Pigeon, 1992, etc.) tells it, Ichabod, a whaler of world-renown, runs up against the fabled whale, Crookjaw. After being flummoxed by the beast, Ichabod plunges down the whale's throat in response to a siren call and falls quickly under the spell of the witch therein. Ichabod's wife, Smilinda, takes to the sea to find her man, sizes up the situation, returns home to fashion a harpoon of silver (the only element capable of turning a witch to wood), and rows back to Ichabod, where they dispatch the witch. The focus is at first on the hero and then the heroine (whom Ichabod seems to have married when he was ten)--canny, resourceful Smilinda, the only character who really comes to life. With so much going on in so few words, the story never develops dramatic tension, and at one point the New England ambience dissipates due to Southern-sounding dialogue: ""That ain't no way to keep your britches dry,"" ""Git aloft,"" ""Jumpin' tadpoles!,"" and ""Lookie here."" In her first picture book, Bronson's accomplished oil paintings recall Stefano Vitale's work, although Bronson takes more license with perspectives and is not entirely keyed in to the text: Crookjaw's mouth is fairly symmetrical in appearance, even with its complement of snaggled teeth.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
Page count: 40pp
Publisher: Henry Holt