One of Chapin’s songs is brought to life in this book about facing criticism.
In a Midwestern town populated by a variety of anthropomorphic animal characters, Mr. Tanner is a baritone bear who joyfully sings in his dry-cleaning shop. His friends and customers encourage him to use his musical gifts professionally. Even though “music was his life, it was not his livelihood,” he lets himself be persuaded to go to New York to perform at Town Hall. He gives it his all onstage but comes away with poor reviews from music critics. Crushed, he goes home, never to sing publicly again. Langdo’s soft-edged watercolor illustrations, many in album-cover–shaped squares, capture the arc of Mr. Tanner’s unfulfilled dreams. The book opens with a bird’s-eye view of a small town and ends with the bear framed by his shop windows, singing to himself. A line of clothes is cleverly hung from a musical staff that winds its way from Dayton to New York. Aside from a few changes, the rhyming text of the book is the same as the original song. A facsimile of the typed lyrics with Chapin’s handwritten corrections is included. Like “Cat’s in the Cradle,” the late singer/songwriter’s best-known work, this story about good intentions going awry has a melancholy air.
There’s inspiration in the refrain: “He didn’t know how well he sang. It just made him whole.” (Picture book. 3-7)