March 01, 2007

(++++) ENDINGS

The End. By David LaRochelle. Illustrated by Richard Egielski. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $16.99.

The Midnight Library: The Cat Lady. By Damien Graves. Scholastic. $5.99.

      Telling a tale backwards has rarely been as much fun as it is in The End. It’s a fairy tale in which what happens after “happily ever after” is really what happens before “happily ever after.” David LaRochelle’s clever text starts with a sentence and then goes to “because,” taking the tale back one step. In the middle of the story, for instance, “the knight’s curly red beard was on fire. His curly red beard was on fire because…” This is the knight who will eventually marry the princess and live happily ever after – or rather who has already married the princess, since that occurs some pages earlier. Want to know why the knight’s beard was blazing? Turn the page and you find out that “he had been tickling a great green dragon. He had been tickling a great green dragon because…” Every solution brings another problem as the tale wends its way merrily back to the beginning, which turns out to tie back (forward?) very neatly to the start (end?) of the book. The whole thing is about as likely as a flying pig – and, lo and behold, one of Richard Egielski’s wonderfully rendered characters is indeed a flying pig. To find out the pig’s role in all this, you have to go to the very last page, after the copyright notice, and then go even beyond that, to the inside back cover, to discover how the whole story really ends. Or begins. Either way, kids (and parents) will find The End laugh-out-loud funny.

      There’s nothing funny about The Midnight Library, in which characters inevitably come to bad ends. The Cat Lady, the fourth book of the series, written by Allan Frewin Jones (one of the authors gathered under the “Damien Graves” pseudonym), includes the title story plus “Who Dares Wins” and “Don’t Wake the Baby.” As in the earlier books of this series – and presumably the later ones, with two more being planned – the stories put basically good kids into situations of peril and then, more often than not, have terrible things happen to them. It’s a strictly formulaic approach, worth a (+++) rating for those who like such things. Just don’t expect a high level of creativity in the tales. In “The Cat Lady,” a nice girl named Chloe gets taunted into throwing rocks at the home of an old woman; hits a cat instead; tries to apologize and make amends; and finds out that “making amends” is a bad thing to do in this case. “Who Dares Wins” features videogames, real-world games, and a boy-vs.-girl competition that turns decidedly deadly. “Don’t Wake the Baby” is about a babysitting job that goes horribly wrong. None of the tales rises above formula, although each offers chills of a sort. But many readers will figure out what bad things will happen to which character almost as soon as the stories start – leaving little that is surprising as the tales end.

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