September 22, 2011


Jumanji. By Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin. $18.99.

Tuesday. By David Wiesner. Clarion. $7.99.

Folk Tale Classics: The Gingerbread Boy; The Three Billy Goats Gruff. By Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $8.99 each.

     Good things hold their value. That includes good children’s books. Each of these four has been around for at least 20 years – and each proves, in a new edition, to be just as enthralling as ever. Jumanji, first published in 1981, brought Chris Van Allsburg the first of his two Caldecott Medals (the second was for The Polar Express, published in 1985). The handsomely produced new 30th-anniversray edition of Jumanji provides a chance for adults to rediscover, and their children to discover, a story that is part fairy tale, part role-playing game, part Indiana Jones adventure (not that 21st-century kids will pick all those elements up). The story is actually pretty simple: bored kids find a box containing a board game whose instructions warn that the game will not be over until one player reaches the goal – a city called Jumanji. It turns out that this jungle-themed game has the mysterious power to make all the descriptions of events happen in the real world: land on a square that describes a rhinoceros stampede, and you get one at home; land on one about a lion attack, and a lion materializes and chases the player unlucky enough to have called it up. This is a sort of The Cat in the Hat for older kids: all sorts of mischief takes place while the parents are out, the entire house is left in shambles, but by the time the adults return, everything is normal and there is no evidence that anything was amiss (because siblings Peter and Judy have in fact played the game through to the end). The amusing absurdity of the premise stands up well after three decades, and Van Allsburg’s excellent black-and-white drawings are as effectively atmospheric as ever. And there is a neat bonus in this 30th-anniversary edition: a CD of the text read by Robin Williams, who starred in the film version of Jumanji, made in 1995. The film was only so-so, but the book was a treat when first published and remains one today.

     So does another Caldecott Medal book, Tuesday, first published in 1991. David Wiesner’s story is even simpler than that of Jumanji, and is told almost without words. There is magic here, too: the book starts on an apparently ordinary Tuesday, when the lily pad on which a frog is squatting suddenly becomes airborne, to the delight of the frog – and the other frogs nearby, which also find themselves aloft. Wiesner draws the frogs and other characters in the book in color and very realistically, but gives them human and often exaggerated expressions: a frog’s joy at flight, a turtle’s alarm as the lily pads pass overhead, a man’s puzzlement as he sees (or thinks he sees) frogs flying past his kitchen window, and at the end – well, the end suggests that it is not only frogs that can fly unexpectedly. But that’s another story for another Tuesday. This particular Tuesday is all fun, all the time, and the new paperback edition is a delight from start to finish.

     Jumanji and Tuesday are original, modern folk or fairy tales, and they stand up quite well in comparison to the much older tales that Paul Galdone (1907-1986) retold and illustrated in a series of attractive books. The Gingerbread Boy (1975) and The Three Billy Goats Gruff (1973) are now available in new editions, and they are fun to read and very pleasant to look at. Galdone’s illustrations provide the stories with quite a few elements of humor – for example, the horse’s wide-eyed expression as it chases the gingerbread boy, and the enormous nose and flyaway hair of the bridge troll who threatens the goats. The stories themselves are told pretty much in traditional form. The pileup of people and animals chasing the gingerbread boy is well narrated and well pictured, and the troll’s threats and eventual comeuppance (he is head-butted into the river) are both effective and funny. There is a little “snip, snap” to both books, too. In The Gingerbread Boy, Galdone writes, “Snip, Snap, Snip, at last and at last he went the way of every single gingerbread boy that ever came out of an oven.” And in The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Galdone ends the story with, “So snip, snap, snout,/ This tale’s told out.” Concluded it may be, but both it and its companion folk tale bear rereading and re-enjoying visually, too, thanks to Galdone’s skill with both the old words and his new pictures.

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