A postmodern picture book with decidedly antiquated characterization, this Italian import may upend conventional wisdom about crocodiles, but it reinforces gender stereotypes.
The titular kindhearted crocodile longs to be a pet but knows that families will fear him; they will want puppies, goldfish and the like. In a metafictive effort to overcome this obstacle, he sneaks into a family’s home each night via the pages of a picture book (as it turns out, the very same one readers hold). While the family sleeps, it putters around the house tidying up, making breakfast and otherwise being kindhearted. The family, in turn, hides out to discover who is helping them each night, and the parents are alarmed to discover the crocodile. While the children want to keep the croc since they recognize it from their book, the “courageous father” pledges to fight it as the “frantic mother” shrieks and waves her arms about. Later, the couple has “a serious conversation,” and the mother, “who appreciated help with dishes and laundry,” sides with the children, though the father still harbors doubt. In the end, the crocodile convinces them to let him stay, brewing a pot of coffee to seal the deal. Lively illustrations evoking Quentin Blake’s style enliven the story but don’t help it overcome the text’s tired gender construction.
A paradoxically enjoyable and consternating metafictive read. (Picture book. 4-8)