Two picture-book veterans offer a phoned-in collaboration that blows off not only the Big Question it poses, but the plot, too.
A puzzled hatchling chameleon actually has two posers: “Could you tell me who I am and where I come from?” he asks of a giraffe, an elephant and a succession of other jungle animals. No, replies each, identifying itself in a patterned way—“I am the cheetah and I am the fastest animal in the whole wide world, but I do not know what sort of creature you are.” A toothy crocodile at last promises enlightenment if only the little tyke will come closer…but just as he’s is about to climb on the croc’s nose, along comes Mama Chameleon to identify her little one as “my little baby chameleon, the most beautiful and unusual creature in the whole wide world!” and whisk him away to meet his many sibs. In his loosely brushed pictures, Ross adds an ingenious detail to the narrative by having the little one adopt the colors of each animal he questions, but he contradicts Phinn’s version of the climax (having the lizard clamber atop the nose of a croc whose mouth is closer to closed than wide open as described) and, in blithe disregard for internal logic, inexplicably sends the suddenly meek crocodile packing.
Why ask children to think deep thoughts when you can offer a superficial variation on the common “Where’s Mama?” theme instead? (Picture book. 5-7)