Dionysian excess meets its match when rats and pipers come to play.
In this Hamelin, before the onslaught of the rats, the adults revel so unceasingly (confining their children to their rooms as they do) that when the rats do invade, you couldn’t wish them on a more deserving populace. Ample attention is spent on the terror the rodents bring, until at last a piper, akin in looks to one of Tomi Ungerer’s The Three Robbers, offers his services. When he is denied payment for a job well-done, the piper returns to take the town’s children with him into the mountains. Sweetest in tone when the children are the focus, the images here are rendered entirely in evocative reds, blues, grays, and blacks. The rats are true threats, swarming and snarling, as in a beautiful silent image of them savoring a “poison as if it were candy.” Moody, dreamlike images suffuse the pages: a lavish, grotesque feast, red wine spilling from a glass like blood, the rats infesting a Christmas tree so that they look like extra baubles. Alas, there is an occasional disjoint between words and images, as when the text declares that the story is set in 1283 alongside images of the all-white cast sporting clothing best suited to the 1950s and ’60s. This just adds to the surreal feel of this accessibly gruesome Pied Piper tale.
As enticing as a piper’s song and twice as alluring to the eye. (Picture book. 6-10)