October 02, 2008


Oddest of All. By Bruce Coville. Harcourt. $16.

Jim Copp, Will You Tell Me a Story? By Jim Copp. Illustrated by Lindsay duPont. Harcourt. $17.95.

     Bruce Coville is finally starting to think of himself as a short-story writer. It’s about time. Oddest of All is his third nine-story collection, after Oddly Enough and Odder Than Ever, and it is every bit as clever, varied, pointed, whimsical and thoughtful as the other two – and frequently more so than his novels, as enjoyable as they are. In fact, some of the stories here take place in the same worlds as Coville’s novels: “The Mask of Eamonn Tiyado,” its title a groaner of a pun on Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” is a Magic Shop tale, while “The Boy with Silver Eyes” is set in the world of The Unicorn Chronicles. These stories are self-contained, though, and as effective as the other tales here. Coville’s variety is quite impressive: “In Our Own Hands” poses a real-world question in a fictional setting and then refuses to answer it, forcing the reader to think; “In the Frog King’s Court” is a very silly story with a serious undertone about pollution; “The Thing in Auntie Alma’s Pond” is genuinely scary; “The Hardest, Kindest Gift” is genuinely strange, and also quite moving; and “Herbert Hutchison in the Underworld” is about a box that must not be opened – the same subject Coville addressed in the first tale within the first of his short-story collections, although the outcome here is quite different. Neither this story’s repeated theme nor the progression of the collections’ titles (odd to odder to oddest) should be taken to mean that Coville will stop writing short stories – at least, one hopes not. He has real and consistent talent in this form.

     Jim Copp (1913-1999) was a well-known storyteller for children from the late 1950s into the 1970s, with nine records (the vinyl kind) to his credit, all on his own label. His stories have a rather dated charm to them, being more effective in recorded form than on the printed page. Jim Copp, Will You Tell Me a Story? includes three tales both in print and on a CD, and it is the CD – Copp’s original recordings in one of today’s formats – that is the main attraction here. Still, the stories remain rather thin and fall a bit flat, despite Copp’s enthusiasm in delivering them. And within the 56 pages of the book, they are thinner still, even with the charming, period-feel illustrations by Lindsay duPont. This book-plus-CD package gets a (+++) rating, mostly for the CD and the illustrations. One story, “Kate Higgins,” is about a girl who is sick but refuses to take her medicine – and ends up feeling worse (but it is told more amusingly than the bare outline would indicate). The second, “Miss Goggins and the Gorilla,” is the funniest – it is about a super-strict fourth-grade teacher and the gorilla that visits her classroom. The third, “Martha Matilda O’Toole,” is about a girl who realizes as she heads for school that she has forgotten this, that and the other thing, and keeps having to go home to get what is missing. Copp’s tale-telling is the real draw here – the tales themselves have not worn particularly well.

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