September 03, 2009


How the Nobble Was Finally Found. By C.K. Williams and Stephen Gammell. Harcourt. $18.

Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli. By Barbara Jean Hicks. Illustrated by Sue Hendra. Knopf. $16.99.

     The Nobble is not a monster – not exactly. It’s not clear what it is, exactly – it is “something, a creature or an animal or a person or, anyway, a something [with] huge eyes and dangly ears and long hair and two lovely wings and little claws on his fingers and a bunch of nice toes.” The Nobble is mighty cute and mighty lonely, having “never been discovered, or bumped into, or met, or found by anybody, anybody at all,” despite having lived “about four thousand three hundred and twenty-three years and three months and fourteen days.” And thereby hangs a tale – specifically, the story of How the Nobble Was Finally Found, which is as quirky as the Nobble himself. C.K. Williams’ sensitive narration and Stephen Gammell’s lovely and thoroughly strange pictures beautifully fit together in this story of the ultimate loner and how everyone, and everything, needs a friend. The narrative is cleverest in explaining just why no one has ever encountered the Nobble. This has to do with the places he hangs out, such as “in the bottom rung of the number eight…and sometimes he went to play in the space between Wednesday and Thursday, and naturally you’d expect that he’d be mostly by himself there, because in that little space there really wasn’t very much to see at all, except way off in the distance a little glow like a radio dial that the Nobble decided was probably something even farther away, between Friday and Saturday, maybe.” Parents may have to explain the glow of a radio dial to children, and there are a few other references here that bear explaining, too, but by and large, the poetic writing carries the story along very well indeed, as the Nobble realizes that he is lonely and sets out to find – well, something. His encounter with a city is beautifully told – big buildings, for example, are “things that went high up into the air like mountains but were all shiny and square.” The Nobble gets scared, first by a cat and then by a little girl, but it is the girl who helps him by directing him to a phone booth (another item that may require some explanation) and showing him that he is not, in fact, all alone in the world. The conventionality of the book’s conclusion, from the standpoint of plot, does not rob it of its essential charm, and the notion that the little girl hears only laughter when she can no longer see the Nobble and his newfound friend is a monstrously good finishing touch.

     The monsters that don’t eat broccoli are also not exactly monsters, although they certainly look like monsters throughout most of Barbara Jean Hicks’ amusingly rhymed story – which features the refrain, “Fum, foe, fie, fee, monsters don’t eat broccoli!” Kids will have a great time watching the monsters – rendered by Sue Hendra with lots of teeth, plenty of scales and near-constant smiles – explain all the things they do eat, including tractors, “tender trailer tidbits,” redwood trees and boulders. It is only at the very end that the “crunchy, munchy trees” turn out to be – what else? – broccoli, and the monsters “chowing down” on them turn out to be a couple of children who are having a great time eating vegetables. This may be a tad unconvincing to kids who are not crazy about the taste of produce – “WOW, are they delicious!” works in Hicks’ narrative but will not necessarily persuade real-world “monsters” that broccoli, carrots and tomatoes are scrumptious. It’s worth a try, though: Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli is enjoyable in and of itself, and maybe, just maybe, it will convince your homegrown monsters that they should at least try some of that green stuff on their plates.

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