A tale of trickery takes an extra left turn.
Old Misery is a small, stooped, elderly woman with bug eyes, skinny limbs, a granny cap, and bulbous jowls that don’t droop. She narrates: “Ain’t got two pennies to rub together. Ain’t got nothing except old Rutterkin here, and she’s about as worthless as a dog with fleas.” Rutterkin’s a black cat whose head and ears form a sideways crescent. But Old Misery has one other thing: an apple tree, perched atop an exaggeratedly steep hill. Ayto’s mostly black-and-white pencil drawings use lines ranging from severe and chaotic to gentle; gentlest are the fine, tiny, checkered crosshatchings that make up the hill and sky. Misery’s skin is the flat white of the paper; only the apples are red, emphasizing their centrality. The tree would feed Misery “if it weren’t for the wicked stealing”: Children, animals, and adults, including “the local vicar looking mighty wiffy-waffy,” all raid it. An archetypal stranger visits and grants a wish, allowing Misery to solve her apple problem creatively. When Mr. Death arrives, skull-faced, wearing a top hat and tails, can she best him too? Yes, but there’s a second twist, enacting sweet revenge in a way that’s totally accessible to the younger set.
Shelve this bonbon with Edward Gorey. (Picture book. 5-8)