February 23, 2006


Pezzettino. By Leo Lionni. Knopf. $15.95.

Veronica. By Roger Duvoisin. Knopf. $15.95.

     Here are two wonderful tales about wanting to be what you are not, the perils of discovery, and the eventual lesson that it’s best just to be who you are.  It’s good to have these books back in print: Pezzetino dates to 1975 and Veronica to 1961, with its most recent edition in 1989.

     Pezzetino is Italian for “little piece,” and Leo Lionni’s fable is about a little square being who is so small that he believes he must be part of something else.  And indeed, every creature he visits to find out where he belongs is made up of little pieces that look a lot like Pezzetino.  This is some of Lionni’s cleverest art: Pezzetino visits “the one-who-runs,” a tall creature made of small pieces; "the strong-one," a blocky, powerful-looking shape also made of small bits; “the swimming-one,” a fishlike mass of little pieces; and so on.  All say he is not a piece of them.  Eventually, “the wise-one who lived in a cave” sends Pezzettino on a journey of self-knowledge to “the Island of Wham,” where the little piece climbs up, up, up, and then, exhausted, falls down – and (wham!) breaks into littler pieces.  Thus, his revelation: he is himself – a message he brings back to all the puzzled creatures he visited while trying to find out where he belonged.  This is one of Lionni’s more humorous tales, and the illustrations are particularly clever both in design and in color.  The various creatures are made of multicolored pieces, for example, but the Island of Wham is all done in browns and other earth tones and is clearly deserted when Pezzetino arrives.

     It’s not an island but a city that is the destination of Veronica the hippopotamus in the book that bears her name.  Roger Voisin (1904-1980) had a distinctive style, best known from his books about Petunia the silly goose.  His wife, Louise Fatio, used a similar style in her Happy Lion books.  There is more narrative in those books, and in Veronica, than is usual nowadays in works for ages 4-8; and the alternation of colored and black-and-white pages, also unusual today, gives the books special charm.  The stories are equally charming, as when Veronica worries about being inconspicuous because “she lived with so many mother and father hippopotamuses, uncle and aunt hippopotamuses, brother and sister hippopotamuses, [and] cousin hippopotamuses” (no quibbling it you prefer to say “hippopotami”!).  Veronica’s determination to stand out leads her to a nearby city, where she is very much a hippo out of water (until she finds a fountain in which to splash).  Her adventures are amusing in a “Curious George” way, even to her eventual rescue by a nice old lady with plenty of money to pay for the damage Veronica has done and hire a moving van to take her home (no, the lady does not wear a yellow hat; she actually more closely resembles Babar’s old lady than The Man in the Yellow Hat).  Some of Voisin’s illustrations may make kids laugh out loud, such as one that shows Veronica sleeping peacefully in a parking lot, parallel parked between other cars that are approximately her size and color.  In the end, like tiny Pezzetino, huge Veronica realizes that it is best to accept herself as she is – although she does become a bit more conspicuous among the other hippos as she regales them with stories of her city adventures.  Like Lionni’s book, Voisin’s is gentle, good-humored and a delight to have back in print in a new edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment