August 22, 2019

(++++) NOPE!

Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet. By David Goodner. Pictures by Louis Thomas. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $17.99.

Hats Are Not for Cats! By Jacqueline K. Rayner. Clarion. $17.99.

     Absolutely not. There are just some things that characters in children’s books cannot have, cannot do, cannot wear. And the authors are determined to explain why. In fact, David Goodner is so determined to show what the ultra-adorable Ginny Goblin cannot do in her search for an appropriate pet that he brings readers along with Ginny on her quest: “Let’s take Ginny down to the beach.” “Let’s take Ginny out to the hills.” “Let’s take Ginny to the forest.” And so on. The problem is that ever-smiling Ginny – shown by Louis Thomas with two large, sharp, protruding lower teeth, huge head, and standard horns and goblin-green skin – goes to perfectly nice, safe, sweet locations only so she can search for some potential pets that are definitely not nice, safe or sweet. This all starts because Ginny has a habit of keeping goats in the house as pets, and goats are smelly and difficult – one is shown munching on Ginny’s unicorn’s tail. So the narrator and readers accompany Ginny on her search for something more suitable. At the beach, she gets into a Ginny-sized submarine and heads down, down, down in the water, worrying the narrator: “She is not allowed to find the great and terrible kraken.” But of course that monster is just what she does find. Nope! The narrator will have none of that! Then, in the hills, instead of cute and fluffy bunnies, Ginny finds her way to “the ancient misty mountains,” using “a magic map…to wake up a dragon and make him her pet.” Nope! No dragon! Head for the forest! No, no, not “the spooky, twisty part of the forest where all the trees are dead and the grass is scorched.” But that is just where Ginny goes – to catch a basilisk, yet another of the many monsters that she cannot, must not have for a pet. Eventually, Ginny takes a rocket from the space museum – something else the narrator says she is not allowed to do – and journeys to a place where she plans to “catch a space alien that spits acid.” Nope, nope, nope! “Ginny Goblin cannot have a monster for a pet!” So what can she have? Aww…how cute! “Ginny Goblin has a baby goat. Goats don’t crush things in their tentacles or set them on fire or petrify them or try to eat them.” What a great pet for Ginny!  Except…wait…just how and why did this pet quest start in the first place? Ginny Goblin Cannot Have a Monster for a Pet is one of those laugh-out-loud books in which the pitch-perfect narration and delightfully apt illustrations work so well together that it is hard to believe they come from two different people – everything just fits together exactly as it should.

     What is not fitting, at least according to a certain dog as described and illustrated by Jacqueline K. Rayner, is a hat-wearing cat. No, Hats Are Not for Cats! Why not? Well, Rayner’s dog never quite explains that, but is quite clear in stating: “Hats, you see, are for dogs. Like me.” They are certainly not for cats. No matter what sort of hat the cat tries on, it does not pass muster: “Not hats that are big/ or hats that are small./ Hats are not for cats at all.” Rayner’s rhyming text, reminiscent of that of Dr. Seuss, fits well with a story in which both the dog and the cat are drawn in shades of gray, while the hats re multicolored as well as multi-shaped. But they are not for cats: “Not pink or stripy or polka dot./ Dogs wear hats and cats do not!” So the dog proclaims, pointing to a wall-mounted drawing showing a happy dog wearing a hat next to a cat that is wearing one but has a big X through it. The fun here comes from the voiceless cat’s many attempts to come up with some sort of hat that the dog will agree makes sense for felines. But everything falls short, even a super-silly hat composed of fruit that the cat wears while riding a skateboard. Rayner has a great sense of the styles of the chapeaux and some wonderful ways of showing cat poses reflecting each hat of which the dog disapproves: “Not fine hats or flapper. /Not dashing and dapper!/ Not pirate or party!/ Not odd hats or arty!” So says the dog, as the cat cavorts about the page wearing everything from a 1920s-style purple feathered hat to one bedecked with skull and crossbones to a beret that apparently comes with two dripping paintbrushes for the cat to hold in its paws. Eventually the dog’s condemnation of cat hats gets so loud – shown by enormous letters – that the words cover a two-page spread and scare the cat right off the right side of the right-hand page: Hats Are Not for Cats! And so the dog is left alone, surrounded by unworn cat hats. But of course things do not, cannot end there. Back comes the cat, which now does speak, saying, “Hats – ARE for cats.” And a whole troupe of cats, of all sizes and now in all colors, shows up to wear all the various hats that the dog – now hatless – has said are not for cats. But the original cat, after leading the triumphally bedecked feline parade, comes back to the now-sad pup to devise a happy, catty, doggy ending for a thoroughly delightful book, as all the cats (and a few dogs that have now shown up) proclaim together, “Hats are for everyone!” Hats off to Rayner for this rambunctious romp!

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