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The title story, plus two that are also about the transmutation of toys, plus a fourth that ties the other three together--presented, however, in a picture-book format (with full-color pictures) that makes the book look too young for the out-of-the-way, and somewhat subtle, stories. In the title story, a tin frog enamored of the lady in the picture on the inside of a La Corona cigar-box lid, finds out (via tips from a magnifying glass, a tape measure, and a seashell) how to get between the dots in the picture and join her. In the second, somewhat similar tale, a tin horseman is united with a "yellow-haired princess" in a "weather castle. . . printed on a card." (The eerie difference has to do with a glass-topped box with little silver halls to be shaken into a monkey's eyes--a terrifying prospect to the tin horseman, who therefore smashes the glass.) The third and most remote involves a night watchman, made of wood, whose "real job was burning incense," and a tin crocodile on wheels. The night watchman is "burning to say something," the crocodile fancies himself literary; and one midnight when the tin watchman does say something properly cryptic ("NOW IS THE ONLY TIME THERE IS!"), the crocodile composes a poem from it--which the spinster mouse, who edits "a literary quarterly," will publish. The last is reverberant--and would make a fine capstone for the group were each more accessible. Quite simply, the clock has noticed that the magic always occurs in "that crucial moment. . . just after his hands touched midnight and just before he sounded his twelve strokes." So, wanting to do something himself in that "in-between moment," he slips out of his case--and La Corona ceases to be "only a picture" and joins the frog in the room, the tin horseman and his princess also materialize together, the incense-burning night watchman finds he can speak the others' language; and as they follow the "clock's escapement" out the window, "whoever lived in the red-and-yellow glass-topped box that had been the monkey game of skill," joins them. "'They'll want me too,' he said. 'Everyone can't be nice.'" More appropriately presented, the quartet might bc worthwhile for children who take to this very particular kind of English magic As it is, though, the book is unlikely to find its few rightful readers.
Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1981
ISBN: 0091767202
Page count: 350pp
Publisher: Jonathan Cape/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1981


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