August 17, 2006


The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon. By Mini Grey. Knopf. $16.95.

Babymouse: Beach Babe. By Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm. Random House. $5.95.

     Mini Grey has a highly unusual sense of humor – perhaps not surprising in someone who got her first name because she was born in a Mini Cooper.  In The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon, she pushes her humor quite a distance – maybe a touch too far.  The book starts out as a “what happened afterwards?” story: after the cow jumped over the moon and the dish ran away with the spoon in the old nursery rhyme, then what happened?  This is a good premise, similar to the “what happened after ‘happily ever after’?” idea that has led to many reconsiderations of fairy tales.  And Grey starts the dish-and-spoon story brightly enough, with a vaudeville act and scads of money, a little too much of the high life, and then the pair falling into debt and owing money to the mob (in the form of the “Carving Knife Gang”).  So far, all this works – but then it all goes a bit awry, when the dish and the spoon become bank robbers to try to pay back the knives.  The dish and the spoon as bad guys?  That’s a stretch – as is their attempted getaway, during which the dish is shattered and the spoon captured and jailed…for 25 years, yet.  This is an awfully dark turn for the tale, and kids who find the early pages of the story endearing may have trouble finding pleasure in the breakage of one character and the incarceration of the other.  Grey tries to bring lightness back at the end: the spoon serves the full 25-year sentence, wanders into a junk shop after being released, and there finds the faded and cracked but now-mended dish.  So the dish and spoon run away again, this time to perform their vaudeville act for free – since it was the money they earned from the act in the first place that led to all their troubles.  There’s a moral in there someplace, but it never quite comes out.  The tale is a touch noir for children who still enjoy nursery rhymes – and not noir enough for ones who have outgrown them.  Give Grey points for cleverness in both writing and illustration, but this adventure isn’t quite all it could have been.

     There’s a portrait of the dish that ran away with the spoon in the latest Babymouse book, too.  The dish and spoon are two of the things Babymouse finds in her locker when cleaning it out at the end of school (she also finds a meteor, some aliens, troublesome gnomes, Bigfoot, and so on).  This and the other fantasy scenes are the strongest parts of Babymouse: Beach Babe, which, like the two earlier Babymouse books, is silly and funny – if a little repetitious, a little too determined to be cute, and a little overly babyish at times.  In Babymouse: Beach Babe, the wrinkly-whiskered girl mouse imagines herself as a champion surfer, a “little mermouse,” a jungle explorer, and more.  But in reality, she’s a little girl mouse struggling to have fun at the beach despite crowds, sunburn, strong waves, and a narrator who is getting on her nerves.  Also in the anti-fun department is Babymouse’s annoying little brother, Squeak – but it is only when Babymouse decides that Squeak is really important to her that both mice finally start to have beach fun.  The message is a little heavy-handed, but considering the fact that Matthew Holm and Jennifer L. Holm are brother and sister, there may be a touch of reality underlying the fantasy and the fun.

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