May 31, 2007


I’d Really Like to Eat a Child. By Sylviane Donnio. Illustrated by Dorothée de Monfreid. Random House. $14.99.

The Police Cloud. By Christoph Niemann. Schwartz & Wade. $15.99.

Cars: The Junior Novelization. Adapted by Lisa Papademetriou. Random House. $4.99.

      There’s plenty of old-fashioned charm in the new books by Sylviane Donnio and Christoph Niemann: both are illustrated in ways recalling classic kids’ books of decades ago, but both have a thoroughly modern and very attractive sense of humor and absurdity. I’d Really Like to Eat a Child, the first book published in the U.S. by an author-and-illustrator team that is quite popular in France, features a finicky-eater alligator named Achilles, who gets tired of bananas and decides that he wants to eat a child instead. His parents, who are not your typical reptilian carnivores, try to tempt him with a sausage and a chocolate cake, but Achilles insists that he wants to eat a child and nothing else. And he spots one: a little girl playing by the river. So Achilles approaches her – and then, in the funniest of Dorothée de Monfreid’s many amusing illustrations, we discover just how tiny Achilles really is. The girl finds him cute: she picks him up, tickles his belly and tosses him in the river. So Achilles goes home and resumes eating bananas – but is he downcast? Not at all: he will keep eating the fruit until he grows big enough so he can eat a child…a prospect young readers are unlikely to dread when they finish this wryly humorous book.

      The Police Cloud has the sort of broadly rendered illustrations familiar from simple kids’ books of old, and its gently absurd story is thoroughly nonthreatening. It’s about a little cloud (shown with two blue eyes and a simply drawn nose and mouth that change color) that wants to be a policeman, so the police force gives him a try – but he is a cloud, so things don’t work out. For example, when he tries to stop a burglar, the other pursuing police officers can’t see the bad guy (because they can’t see through the cloud), so the thief gets away. The heartbroken cloud starts to cry – that is, to rain – and he happens to drift over a burning building, put the fire out, become a hero to the fire department, and…well, you can see where this goes. The important thing is that it goes there so ingenuously and so entertainingly. This is the first picture book by Christoph Niemann, who often does cover illustrations for The New Yorker. His style fits a kids’ book very well indeed.

      There’s nothing quite so old-fashioned about Cars: The Junior Novelization, which of course is based on the popular Pixar/Disney animated film – and which contains 16 full-color stills from the movie as illustrations. The story of Cars does have its charms, but it works so well as a film that it’s hard to see why children who enjoy the movie will want to read a version in book form. Lisa Papademetriou’s adaptation gets all the movie’s highlights in, but the frenetic pacing of the film is missing, as are the highly individualized voices that made the movie so entertaining. The book deserves a (+++) rating for trying to get kids interested in the animated cars’ antics in another format, and for following the script accurately. But the newfangled approach of Cars, the film, fits less well between covers than do more old-fashioned tales meant to be told in book form.

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