Clarence the raccoon might be the anti–Amelia Bedelia.
There’s a long tradition of lovable fools, like Amelia Bedelia and Lazy Jack, who are so sweet that everyone adores them even when they get things hopelessly mixed up. When Amelia Bedelia dresses a chicken, it ends up wearing a charming outfit, and, in this picture book, Clarence seems to follow the same school of thought. When he’s baking challah bread for the Jewish Sabbath, he comes home with a bunny instead of honey and a beast instead of yeast. But Clarence is much more cunning than his progenitors. The animals turn out to be a fantastic baking team. The beast, for example, is an “absolutely terrific” kneader. Almost every page of the book has an unexpected twist, and the surprises are more satisfying than the actual jokes. The low point is when Clarence picks up soil instead of oil. Even the narrator often seems surprised, with comments like, “Seriously, Clarence? WHAT are you thinking?” If those exclamations are a little too intrusive, the surprises in the artwork are wonderfully nontraditional. They reverse the usual big-head, big-eyes style of cartooning. Most of the animals have long, lanky bodies and pinprick eyes. But the best surprise is what a joyful found family the animals make at Shabbat dinner.
Jaded readers will love this crafty twist on the holy fool. (Picture book. 3-8)