June 26, 2008


The Rabbit and the Turtle: Aesop’s Fables Retold and Illustrated by Eric Carle. Orchard Books/Scholastic. $16.99.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. By Eugene W. Field. Illustrated by Giselle Potter. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.

Don’t Bump the Glump! and Other Fantasies. By Shel Silverstein. HarperCollins. $17.

Ella Sets Sail. By Carmela and Steven D’Amico. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $16.99.

      The oldest of fables have life in them yet, and there are plenty of newer ones with manifest charms of their own, as this group of recent releases shows. The Rabbit and the Turtle is a new edition of Eric Carle tales that date back as far as 1976. The 11 stories here are much older, long-familiar ones: the little mouse that saves a powerful lion captured by thieving wolves, leading to the moral, “Friends come in all shapes and sizes”; the mice that decide to bell the cat but cannot figure out who will do so, with the moral, “An idea is not always enough”; and the famous title story, usually called “The Tortoise and the Hare,” with its moral, “Slow and steady wins the race.” Carle’s painted-tissue-paper collages fit the stories wonderfully well and provide both an updating and a high level of amusement. The turtle, for instance, wears a top hat; the rescued lion sports elegant business clothes, while the helpful mouse wears farmer-like overalls; in the story of the grasshopper and the ants, the frivolous grasshopper who fiddled while the ants saved is literally shown with a violin, with the ants in a house decorating a Christmas tree; and so on. Carle’s new approach to these old, old stories keeps them fresh – and a lot of fun.

      Wynken, Blynken, and Nod
isn’t quite as old as Aesop’s tales –Eugene W. Field wrote the poem in 1889 – and it is not a story with a moral. But it remains a wonderful bedtime tale, and Giselle Potter’s anthropomorphic moon and almost-identical-triplet title characters keep the work thoroughly charming. A highlight is the two-page illustration of fish, among which appear the words, “The little stars were the herring fish/That lived in that beautiful sea.” This is intended as a tale about Holland – Field originally called it “Dutch Lullaby” – and Potter’s pictures of flowers and of the wooden shoe a-sail in the night sky maintain its legacy. Potter’s moon specifically resembles the one created by early filmmaker Georges Méliès for his famous 1902 silent film, A Trip to the Moon – which Potter cites as one of her inspirations. Families will find that her illustrations inspire young children to sweet and gentle dreams.

      Shel Silverstein’s pictures in Don’t Bump the Glump! are more of the wake-up type. This was Silverstein’s first poetry collection, initially published in 1964, and it wears very well indeed – and looks great in its handsome, full-color new edition. Here you will meet the Quick-Disguising Ginnit, which looks exactly like a man’s hat except for its tiny head and legs; the Zrbangdraldnk, which Silverstein will write about as soon as he figures out how to pronounce it; and the Terrible Feezus: “There is a terrible twenty-foot Feezus./ Shhh…I don’t think he sees us.” Also here are “the Pointy-Peaked Pavarius,/ A creature most gregarious,” and the “Skaverbacked Gritchen/ Who lives in my kitchen.” Silverstein’s drawings are as clever as his rhymes, and even if some of the animals devour readers (or threaten to), kids will love meeting the likes of the Slithergadee, the Skinny Zippity and the Gumplegutch.

      For a much gentler time with a much sweeter animal, kids can turn to Carmela and Steven D’Amico’s latest story of Ella the Elegant Elephant, Ella Sets Sail. This is a fantasy-adventure occasioned by Ella’s temporary loss of her lucky red hat after she lends it to a friend and a gust of wind carries it away. Ella ends up in a boat, trying to fish her hat out of the water; then using the hat as a sail when the wind picks up; then finding herself carried – without her hat – to an island she has never visited before. Poor Ella, suffering through so much bad luck despite her lucky hat – but of course she does get it back, and everything works out just fine. By the end of the book, Ella has realized how lucky she really is – a most pleasant finish to the latest D’Amico fantasy, drawn in a style reminiscent of the Babar books and those of H.A. Rey.

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