May 01, 2008


A Princess, A Pirate, and One Wild Brother. By Cornelia Funke. Illustrated by Kerstin Meyer. Chicken House/Scholastic. $18.99.

Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems. By Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. Illustrated by Janet Stevens. Harcourt. $17.

      Here’s a great buy: three Cornelia Funke books in one, for not much more than the original price of a single one. A Princess, A Pirate, and One Wild Brother contains The Princess Knight (originally published in 2001, with English translation in 2003); Pirate Girl (2003; English, 2005); and The Wildest Brother (2004; English, 2006). The books have nothing to do with each other, except that all celebrate the pluck and bravery of young girls – and all are wonderfully told stories that are significantly enriched by Kerstin Meyer’s apt and amusing illustrations. The Princess Knight is all about a princess, youngest of four children in a kingdom, who refuses to accept the mockery of her brothers just because they fight more intensely and more loudly than she can. She decides to develop her own fighting style, relying on stealth – which serves her in good stead when her father decides to make her, the princess, the prize in a knightly tournament. Pirate Girl tells of some rough-and-tumble bad guys who push their luck too far when they attack a small ship carrying a little girl named Molly, who is on her way to see her grandmother. Captain Firebeard, Morgan O’Meany, Bill the Bald and the rest of the pirates get their comeuppance in a wholly deserved and quite unexpected way. As for The Wildest Brother, it takes place in an apparently ordinary home, where young Ben spends his time fighting off Man-Eating Monsters, Moldy Green Ghosts, Burglars, Bears and more – all to protect his exceedingly tolerant older sister, who turns out, when Ben needs some real-world protection, to be the one who is really big and strong. Funke is a marvelous storyteller, equally comfortable with piratical absurdity, royal self-assertion and the heartwarming everyday life of siblings. Each of these tales is a treat; taken together, they are a triple helping of delight.

      Help Me, Mr. Mutt! has its own take on absurdity: it is about an advice column for dogs, by a dog. Canines giving their names as “Famished in Florida,” “Overdressed in Oklahoma” and the like send Mr. Mutt complaint letters – accompanied by photos – asking how they can get humans to behave better…or at least more cooperatively. And Mr. Mutt has just the right answers, from a dog’s point of view. People refusing to play constantly because they want to watch TV? Chew through the cord, then jump up and down in front of the now-dark set. People won’t let you sleep in their bed? Sleep in their child’s bed – after making sure the child is already asleep. And what about those pesty cats who seem to have everything so easy in these doggy households? Well, that’s where things get a little complicated for Mr. Mutt, because every time he tells a correspondent how to get the better of a cat, he receives a letter from The Queen – whose stationery says, “The Queen Speaks” beneath a picture of her wearing a tiara. And The Queen has little patience for being critiqued by…ugh…dogs. “Cats are not snooty,” she writes. “We just have a superior attitude. A cattitude.” Clearly Mr. Mutt and The Queen are heading for a confrontation – and that is just what they get, as the advice and counter-advice columnists get into a hissing, spitting, tying-up, chasing mêlée, after which all ends sort of happily, sort of ambiguously, and very amusingly. Here’s some unsolicited advice: Read. Laugh. Have fun.

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