Tharp and Heath (Gertrude and Toby’s Friday Adventure, 2015) return to their rural setting of mixed-up fairy tales as a brave goat and tortoise land on the top of a giant beanstalk.
When the county fair takes Farmer Sam and his son away for the day, Gertrude the goat gets a brilliant idea: she and her best friend, the tortoise Toby, can go adventuring again. As soon as the farmer’s big trailer takes off, the duo sets out into the woods. Toby’s sure they’re being followed, and it’s true: a magic flying carpet is trailing them, just in time to rescue a pair of children running away from a witch. Toby and Gertrude soon join the rescued Hansel and Gretel to head into town, but as they near Hay Bale Market, they realize that their friend the Gingerbread Man has been caught in a giant beanstalk. There’s nothing to do but take the magic carpet up, up, and away and rescue him from the giant’s house, where he’s imprisoned in a cage. Gertrude’s quick thinking and bold plan should appeal to young readers, and her pal Toby’s deliberate word choices (“I declare” and “Indeed!” are among his repeated phrases) offer a tortoise who speaks carefully rather than slowly. While an earring is an unlikely lock pick and Hansel and Gretel’s sudden happy ending involving the market owner feels unearned, the appearances of well-known fairy-tale characters should appeal to preschoolers and newly independent elementary readers. The illustrations add charm, from the comically oversized pig in the opening to the Gingerbread Man’s mad dash once he reaches safety (the small cast of ordinary folks, however, lacks diversity). Toby’s wide blue eyes and buzz cut and Gertrude’s humanlike goat face make them easy to empathize with, but Hansel and Gretel, despite their escape from the witch, never show much depth or agency in either the text or the images. The giant, while delightfully slovenly, is unlikely to scare anyone, making this a safe choice for squeamish young fairy-tale lovers.
Fans of the first book should be pleased with this second outing, particularly the return of the Hay Bale Market owner, and newcomers will likely enjoy the spunky heroes and famous characters.