August 24, 2006


Thelonius Monster’s Sky-High Fly Pie. By Judy Sierra. Drawings by Edward Koren. Knopf. $16.95

A Color of His Own. By Leo Lionni. Knopf. $12.95.

     Judy Sierra’s wonderfully ridiculous recasting of the already wonderfully ridiculous poem about the old lady who swallowed a fly is…well, wonderfully ridiculous.  You remember the poem: “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly – I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.  Perhaps she’ll die./ I know an old lady who swallowed a spider that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.  She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, but I don’t know why she swallowed the fly.  Perhaps she’ll die.”  And so on, and on, and on, in the best house-that-Jack-built fashion.  Well, Sierra – aided and abetted by thoroughly delightful drawings by Edward Koren – has adapted the lady-and-fly poem into a tale of the lovably shaggy Thelonius Monster’s attempts to make a fly pie (because he once swallowed a fly and it tasted so good).  Thelonius consults the requisite spider for advice (via E-mail, no less), and then proceeds to create an enormous pie crust with the characteristics of flypaper: all gooey and sweet and very, very sticky.  Thelonius collects flies from all the suitably gross places – a cat’s litter box, a cow’s droppings, a Dumpster – and puts all the flies, still very much alive, onto his super-sticky pie crust.  Then he invites “all his disgusting-est friends and relations” to have some pie with him, and then they show up, and THEN…but that would be telling.  It’s really hard to top Sierra’s and Koren’s talent for wild poetry and weird drawings – wait until you read and see the scene in which the flies, still trapped on the pie crust, serenade the monsters by playing tiny violins, trumpets, bongo drums and a guitar.  Kids will laugh out loud at the thoroughly twisted happy ending here – and parents who don’t laugh out loud need a funny-gland checkup.

     The absurdity in Leo Lionni’s 1975 fable, A Color of His Own, is of a gentler sort.  This lovely little story – one of Lionni’s best – is about a chameleon who laments the fact that he does not have his own color: he takes on the color of whatever he is near.  What solves the chameleon’s problem is an older, wiser chameleon, who realizes that if the two stay together, each will always have the color of the other – whatever that color may be.  This element of the story is a pleasant take on the importance of friendship.  But Lionni offers more here, for he has the unhappy chameleon – and, later, his friend – take on colors that are quite impossible in real chameleon life.  The humor of the story lies entirely in Lionni’s charming illustrations of a chameleon on a tiger’s back, striped like a tiger; a chameleon sitting on a leaf so his color won’t change, then changing anyway as the seasons progress; and, best of all, two chameleons finding bright-red mushrooms with white spots – and ending up bright red and white-spotted themselves.  Simple, like all Lionni’s fables, and disarmingly charming as well, A Color of His Own is a lovely little delight in this handsome reissue – in the original, easy-to-hold size of about eight inches square.

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