The 40th-anniversary edition of a beloved German fable carries a pointed message that might already be too late.
Momo, a homeless, parentless waif of undetermined age in a nameless European city, is blessed with the gift of listening—“with utmost attention and sympathy”—and adopted by her humble neighbors as a treasured member of their community. Then the sinister gray men arrive, persuading everyone to “save time” by abandoning such idle pleasures as friendship and play. The townsfolk become obsessed with efficiency and shallow consumption, their lives stripped of dreams, beauty and joy. Targeted by the gray men, Momo escapes to the very heart of time to discover the secrets that will rescue her friends. The heavy-handed moral is impossible to miss, but the tale is saved from being preachy by wittily perceptive social criticism and haunting, surrealistic imagery. Despite some mild profanities, this new translation is more graceful and whimsical than the 1985 edition, though lacking its old-fashioned charm; the dark and dreary pen-and-ink illustrations do not improve on the earlier simple line drawings.
Nonetheless, this all-ages delight deserves rescue and is ideal for classroom (or bedtime) read-alouds—especially if the grown-ups pay attention along with the children. (Fantasy. 10 & up)