An alligator learns that friendship is more rewarding than winning in this children’s tale from writer/illustrator Shapley-Box.
Tator the Gator is feeling glum; his friends are forever winning prizes in the Applefest and, despite his best efforts to win a juggling contest or bake the best apple pie, his little house remains unadorned by any trophy or ribbon. Tator says to his friends: “I have never won a ribbon or crown. I have no talents, and I am lacking skills. I have nothing to put on my windowsills.” His friends plan to coach Tator so he can win the Applefest race. They cleverly craft running shoes for him from a tire and an old shoelace, and hold practice runs with Cabbit the Rabbit manning the stopwatch. On the day of the race, just when Tator is nearing the finish line, and it looks like he’ll have his first a taste of victory, an unexpected wrench is thrown in the works. The story adeptly deals with emotions and issues that even young children struggle with—envy, loss and loyalty, among others. Shapley-Box tells her tale in rhyming verse with a lively cadence, and some passages are spot-on Seussian. The illustrations are composed well, and some details are lovely, especially the trees, flowers and landscapes. But Shapley-Box hasn’t hit on a cohesive palette. Many pictures are a barrage of color with varying intensities of too many color families. Nevertheless, children are likely to focus on the animals, nearly all which rate high on the cute meter. And indeed, most of the characters are well rendered and have a unique charm. Unfortunately, the least appealing is Tator; his eyes are a muddy hazel color that clashes with the green of his skin, the rendering of which suggests less an alligator and more of a wrinkly, multihued cucumber.\
Appealing to kids while parents may declare the writing and story the winner, with the illustrations a distant second.