July 22, 2010


Ugly Pie. By Lisa Wheeler. Illustrated by Heather Solomon. Harcourt. $16.

Barry, the Fish with Fingers. By Sue Hendra. Knopf. $15.99.

Happiness. By Edward Monkton. Andrews McMeel. $9.99.

     There is nothing profound in any of these books – their only purpose is joyfulness, which they communicate with enthusiasm in very different ways. Ugly Pie is a story of the B’rer Rabbit type, featurin’ a big ol’ bear named Ol’ Bear who has a hankerin’ for a tasty but really ugly pie. And that’s the only sort of pie he wants – not pleasin’ pumpkin, not righteous rhubarb, not heavenly honey pie, but ugly pie. So Ol’ Bear wanders here ’n’ there, meetin’ up with Ma Hickory and Sweet Cicely and the other bears in the neighborhood, lookin’ at and sniffin’ the delicious and beautiful pies they have made – but still feelin’ dissatisfied because he only wants ugly pie. And at each stop, Ol’ Bear picks up something’ ugly, like wrinkled red raisins and sour green apples and bumpy brown walnuts. So he decides that if he can’t find ugly pie, he’ll make ugly pie – which is just what he does. And everybody enjoys it. Readers can, too – the recipe is included. And Lisa Wheeler’s whole rollicking tale is just so silly (and so appropriately illustrated in homespun style by Heather Solomon) that when Ol’ Bear’s “heart sang” and “doorbell rang” at the end of the story, you just know all those bakers of good-lookin’ pies are going to be there waitin’ for a taste of ugly pie, and you just know it’s going to be dee-licious. And it is – “the most delicious, most beautiful Ugly Pie you ever saw.”

     For another heaping helping of absurdity, try Barry, the Fish with Fingers, an under-the-sea romp about a little blue fish with huge googly eyes and 10 – yep, 10 – fingers that can do wonderful things. All the fish in the deep, it seems, are bored, so Barry says, “Well, prepared [sic] to be un-bored” and pulls out...“finger puppets!” And that’s not all: Barry shows how he can use fingers to count to 10, finger-paint, play the piano and tickle everybody! And then Barry’s fingers do something even more amazing: one of them points when a huge box falls into the water, and that warning means that not a single fish gets squashed by the box. And what’s more, the box contains the explanation of how Barry got his fingers, and a way for all the fish to get some fingers of their own! This is one of those books whose inside front and back covers are part of the story and part of the fun: the front covers show all the amusing-looking and brightly colored fish, and the back ones show the same fish with big grins, all sporting their new fingers. It’s a delightful little piece of utter frivolity.

     Happiness by Edward Monkton (pen name of poet Giles Andreae) is intended only as semi-frivolity, being a small hardcover “gift book” filled with homilies and cute observations about life and the importance of happiness and, indeed, the inevitability of happiness if you only allow it to come through to you. Simple and sometimes really funny drawings of characters such as the Sheep of Destiny and the Happy Potato are interspersed with little bits of text, such as: “The HOPPY HOPPY SPARROW plants beautiful thoughts that grow like FLOWERS in the BLACKNESS of SPACE. Note: Oh that the World were full of Hoppy Hoppy Sparrows.” Also to be found here are the Cloud of Joy, which provides a gentle “RAIN of HAPPINESS,” and “ZEN DOG” enjoying being adrift in the ocean, and even “the PIG of HAPPINESS” (who has appeared in a previous Monkton book) with his “JOYFUL SMILE.” Readers will themselves smile joyfully at just how silly Monkton’s whole premise is here, and just how amusingly he puts the whole book together. And that, of course, is the point: smiling joyfully, for whatever reason, is what being happy is all about. Not that Monkton is completely na├»ve about this: after asserting that “there are only 2 things worth living for – LOVE and HAPPINESS,” he includes a footnote: “Oh OK, and maybe CHOCOLATE.” Now if that combination of ideas doesn’t make you smile, what will?

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