Lee’s latest is disappointing all around.
Clarence is a little boy who lives in a town in the mountains and keeps to himself. His one avocation seems to be stealing cakes–the beautiful, decorated ones that his neighbors have made. The masked boy sneaks through kitchen windows to lift the covers off the cake stands and spirit away the creations he finds. But one day, instead of a confection, he finds an invitation to a party. The one caveat is that he must supply the cake. Clarence knows he cannot take a stolen cake, but he does not know how to cook. After much fretting, he discovers a cookbook that will fill in the gaps in his culinary know-how, and his cat helps him bake a beautiful cake. Unmasked, he attends the party amid much cheering, and now no longer needs to steal cakes, since â€œhe had learned how to bake a cake for everyone to enjoy.” Never is it made apparent why Clarence steals cakes (he doesn’t admire or eat them), or why he shuns socializing with his neighbors. Without these background details, the ending falls flat, as the reader does not empathize with Clarence. Also, parents ought to be concerned by Lee’s failure to make clear to readers that stealing is wrong and carries penalties. Clarence never faces negative consequences for his stealing and is instead rewarded by a party and the offer of friendship with his neighbors. Lee’s bright, party-colored oil paintings are filled with bold, clear-lined basic shapes but are rather lackluster in substance. There’s too little there to keep the interest of readers who already find the story deficient, ultimately leaving more questions than it answers.
For a rollicking tale of a thief who gets his just deserts, try Cynthia DeFelice’s Old Granny and the Bean Thief, or, for a classic, no one does it better than Beatrix Potter and The Tale of Peter Rabbit.