October 20, 2005


Regarding the Trees. By Kate Klise. Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise. Gulliver Books/Harcourt. $15.

Miranda the Great. By Eleanor Estes. Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone. Harcourt. $16.

     Regarding the Trees is the long-awaited (by fans of the Klise sisters’ offbeat humor) successor to Regarding the Fountain and Regarding the Sink.  There’s no longer a strictly watery theme here (though trees, of course, need water to live), and this is a traditionally sized book instead of the oversize-page type (because it is intended for ages 9-12).  But there is no question that this is a Klise production.  It is told entirely in letters, newspaper articles, illustrations, secret notes, and so on; the puns are pervasive (one girl’s date for a dance is Will U. Merrame – think about it); and the story is rooted in trees of every type, from weeping willow to phone to family.  Klise tales are notoriously difficult to encapsulate – much of the fun is in meandering hither and thither – but it will not spoil anything to say that this one starts with a tree-trimming proposal at Geyser Creek Middle School and includes an Italian cafeteria chef living in a classroom, a sixth grader living in a weeping willow, a boycott of the boys by the girls, a flashback to the Maids of May of 74 years ago, letters to and from Watertown, California, and much more.  It sounds (and, thanks to the format, looks) chaotic, but the Klises do a tree-mendous job of knotting together all the branches of their tale.  And wooden you know it?  They’re already at work on their next book, to whose subject readers are made privy at the end of this one.

     Eleanor Estes always went for straight narrative rather than anything convoluted in her books.  Miranda the Great, one of her less-known works, is one of her most charming – and is unusual in that it is a fable whose roots in the past have grown all the way to the present.  One of Italy’s more unusual traditions is cat protection: street cats are allowed to roam at will and cannot be evicted from wherever they live (there are even groups of Romans who spend their time feeding the cats in a semi-official capacity).  Why this feline fondness?  Estes traces it back to a cat of ancient Rome named Miranda, living happily with Punka, her favorite daughter, in a villa in the time of Nero.  Alas, barbarians attack the city, the family that owns the villa flees, and Miranda and Punka are left to fend for themselves.  Soft-hearted Miranda gathers homeless kittens as she and Punka roam, eventually bringing a large group of cats to the Colosseum – where all hope to find shelter.  But things do not go easily, as Miranda must deal with enemy cats, dog packs and even a hungry lion.  It is because she handles all the challenges successfully that she earns the title Miranda the Great – and eventually takes the lead in a “great cat cantata” celebrating her accomplishments.  The story is charming, told in an Aesopian style that is unusual for Estes, and will delight readers ages eight and older.

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