August 30, 2012


Those Darn Squirrels Fly South. By Adam Rubin. Illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Clarion. $16.99.

I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More! By Karen Beaumont. Illustrated by David Catrow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $11.99.

     Unanswerable question: who is sillier in kids’ books, the animal characters or the human ones?  In Adam Rubin’s Those Darn Squirrels series, it is always a tie, and the third book – after Those Darn Squirrels and Those Darn Squirrels and the Cat Next Door – confirms the equality of Rubin’s absurdity.  And that of illustrator Daniel Salmieri, too: he goes all-out to make the bug-eyed but thoughtful squirrels, their weird but effective inventions, and the irascible but good-hearted Old Man Fookwire all equally ridiculous-looking.  In Those Darn Squirrels Fly South, this means coming up with all sorts of designs for the squirrels’ flying machines, which they build because they want to know where birds go when they fly south for the winter.  The squirrels “built gyro-copters from pinecones” and “gliders from leaves” and even “a zeppelin from an old shopping bag.”  And if you think that sounds ridiculous, wait until you see the contraptions fly – not only those three but also, among others, a winged soda-pop bottle apparently propelled by expelling the shaken-up soda.  The squirrels are exhausted when they finally get to the southern beach on which the floogle bird they have been following lands (although somehow there is still plenty of soda left in that bottle).  But once landed, the squirrels relax and have a great time – except that, by this stage of the series, they actually miss Old Man Fookwire, whom they call (collect) from a handy pay phone, and who decides that he could do with a bit of warmth himself.  So he takes the tarp off his sports car: “He’d bought it in 1957 and had driven it only twice.”  And he drives all the way south at a nice, steady 12 miles an hour, on a one-lane road, leading a many-miles-long parade of other motorists whose reactions to him are about what you would expect.  Then Fookwire and the squirrels have a great vacation and a much quicker trip back home – because this time the squirrels do the driving.  Fookwire’s occasional exclamations about “those darn squirrels” carry a lot less weight in this book than in the earlier ones: he and they have developed an amused and affectionate relationship to replace his original curmudgeonly response to their behavior.  And there is no reason to try to figure out who wins the “sillier” award here – the real winners are young readers following all the antics.

      And speaking of antics: the traditional song, “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,” becomes the basis of some extremely silly ones indeed – thanks to Karen Beaumont’s altered words and David Catrow’s side-splittingly funny illustrations – in the lap-size board book, I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!  It opens with two pages of absolutely riotous color all over every surface in a house – walls, floor, ceiling – as a little boy’s mother (who is about the only unpainted thing around, other than the family dog) looks on in extreme disapproval and, on the next page, has the budding artist (and the dog) firmly plunked into a bathtub that is overflowing with messy multiple colors.  After the boy’s bath, Mama puts the paints on the top shelf of a closet, and the whole scene is now black-and-white: “I ain’t gonna paint no more, no more,/ I ain’t gonna paint no more.”  But things don’t stay uncolorful for long, as the boy (helped by the dog) creates a tower from boxes, a chair and a bowling ball and gets the paints down: “That’s what I say…/ but there ain’t no way/ that I ain’t gonna paint no more.”  Well, you can guess where this is going, but not how hilariously it is going there.  The boy (whose expressions are really priceless) uses red to paint his head; then, what the heck, his neck; and “there ain’t no harm” if he paints his arm; and he uses black to paint his back; and the pictures and contortions and colorful mess (now including a much-painted dog) get wilder and wilder until, quite predictably, Mama discovers what is going on – and boy and dog end up right back in that gigantic bathtub, with paint everywhere on the tub, walls, floor, and even in the water.  The unending absurdity and sheer joy of mess-making pervade this book from start to finish, and even parents who would scarcely approve of kids doing anything remotely like what the little boy does here will likely find themselves singing along with the silly rhymes and thoroughly enjoying the increasingly colorful spectacle.  And then finding better places to hide the paint.

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