February 14, 2019
(++++) TRANSFORMATION TALES
The VERY Impatient Caterpillar. By Ross Burach. Scholastic. $17.99.
Dragons Eat Noodles on Tuesdays. By Jon Stahl. Illustrated by Tadgh Bentley. Scholastic. $17.99.
Inspired loosely – make that very loosely – by Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Ross Burach’s The VERY Impatient Caterpillar is not about a critter eating all sorts of things but about a critter complaining about all sorts of things. Well, really only one thing: how long it takes for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly. The caterpillar claims to know all about metamorphosizing (which he cannot, however, pronounce) and about a chrysalis (which he cannot quite figure out how to create) – but he gets his chrysalis done, with a little help from other caterpillars, and soon finds himself waiting. And waiting. And, um, waiting. “Just be patient and let nature take its course,” another caterpillar urges, but this caterpillar simply can’t, even though he says, “Patience. Right. Right. I got this.” Um…no, he doesn’t. Talking through his chrysalis to other chrysalises, he repeatedly asks if he is a butterfly yet, and is repeatedly – and increasingly loudly – told he is not, and simply has to be patient. Um…nope. He tries; he really does. But the change takes two weeks. “TWO WEEKS?!” What is he going to do for two weeks? Burach, who has a finely tuned sense of the absurd, shows the caterpillar inside the chrysalis, playing a ball-and-paddle game, trying to order a pizza, and worrying about what to do if he needs to use the bathroom. And all that is just during the first day. Argh! Unable to stand it any longer, the caterpillar bursts out of the chrysalis, cross-eyed and goo-covered, and tries to flap his nonexistent wings and fly – with the easy-to-anticipate result: “SPLAT!” Now what? Time to spin a new chrysalis and try some positive self-talk to his reflection in a hand mirror: “YOU are the little caterpillar that could.” Unfortunately, his answer is, “I am the little caterpillar that couldn’t.” But after much arguing back and forth with himself – Burach’s picture of a bemused squirrel overhearing the sounds from the chrysalis is a gem – the caterpillar manages to get control of his impatience through focus, slow breathing, and quiet meditation. And sure enough, after two weeks, he emerges as the most improbably colored butterfly imaginable: purple and blue and striped and polka-dotted and green and white and yellow and pink – well, he certainly does put plenty of flashy, clashing colors on display. And now he can join the other just-transformed butterflies on their migration, for which he promises to be “WAY MORE PATIENT.” But…umm…migrating takes a long time, and…well, Burach finds just the right time and just the right amusing way to end a book about patience that is fun precisely because it is so un-preachy.
There is no preaching in Jon Stahl’s Dragons Eat Noodles on Tuesdays, either, but there is a transformation of a different sort. The book starts with a wide-eyed, very plump little blue monster with a penchant for telling stories that are short, to the point, and not very interesting – as in: “So, there’s this kid. And he gets eaten by a dragon. The E!” Realizing that the book’s readers are not enjoying stories like this, the blue monster accepts some help from a smaller, longer-eared, yellow monster, who tries to make the blue monster’s stories both longer and nicer, despite being told, “Nice? Nice is boring.” A story really, really needs a dragon, insists the blue monster. “Be careful what you wish for,” says the yellow monster, obligingly starting a story in which a gigantic dragon named Dennis, who has skipped breakfast, is about to chow down on a boy knight. But here comes the transformation: captured and frightened, the knight, instead of rescuing a damsel in distress, is himself rescued by “a brave damsel” who “was also very smart” and who unrolls a scroll showing that “dragons ONLY eat noodles on Tuesdays!” Embarrassed, Dennis tosses the knight out of the way and heads off to find some noodles, as the knight-rescuer exclaims, “Damsels rule!” But – well, this is a story-within-a-story, and who should suddenly appear, looming high above the two storytelling monsters, but Dennis himself? Stahl’s twist here is delightfully handled – abetted, as is the entire book, by some wonderfully outlandish Tadgh Bentley illustrations. Dennis is so huge that only part of him fits on the page, and besides, he is hungry – but this being Tuesday, there is nothing to fear. Except – hmm. What day is today? Turns out it is Wednesday. And what did the scroll of the damsel in the story say that dragons eat on Wednesdays? Better look back at that page! The answer is – oh no! “Monsters.” And so the two storytellers are quickly snapped up, finding themselves inside the dragon in a place that “smells like day-old noodles,” as Dennis proclaims, “The End!” But…not quite…because the two monsters, on the very last page, start a story about “two guys who escape from the belly of a dragon” – leaving the continuation of the tale to any young readers who are not too busy rolling around with laughter to think of what could happen next.