Fuse #8

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Review of the Day: The Trouble With Cauliflower

The mysterious KT requested book recommendations that included picky eaters the other day. This story didn't occur to me at the time, but would fit that request to a tee. For your consideration.

There are hundreds of thousands of wonderful picture books for children out in the world. Unfortunately, of these books only a handful read aloud well to small children. It doesn't matter how much you love a book or how vibrantly you articulate it for the little 'uns. The fact of the matter remains that only those authors with the keenest of ears will be able to pen a title that sounds just as fine to a class of 20 screaming Kindergartners as it does a single well-behaved six-year-old. Now I consider myself a readaloud-picture-book-seeking-machine. I sniff them out in all their variegated forms, trying to locate the best and brightest of the lot every year. My library also receives a great many brand new picture book titles. Some are mere days old while others haven't even hit bookstore shelves yet. Recently we received a shipment from Dial Books For Young Readers. I was delighted because I'd been anticipating a couple stories that I knew would be included. In the box, however, there were other books that I'd never even heard of. And one of these was, "The Trouble With Cauliflower". I viewed the galley with a skeptical eye. I flipped its pages. I sat down and devoured its text. And the conclusion I reached startled me. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of those rare and wonderful readalouds I constantly search for without cease. A fine funny book and a rather charming read.

Mortimer the koala and Sadie the ostrich (or possibly emu) are friends. One night, Sadie invites Mortimer over for dinner to partake of a delicious stew she's been making. At first our koala hero refuses to dine, for he knows that there is cauliflower in the bowl and, "whenever I eat cauliflower, I have bad luck the next day". Sadie wisely pooh-poohs this idea, and before long Mortimer's polished off four helpings of the stuff. Unfortunately, he pays for it the next day. He stubs his toe, and spills orange juice, and fails a very important driver's test. That night he has Sadie over for dinner at his place and she brings a lovely vegetable surprise casserole. The next day after that, Mortimer has nothing but luck. It's only when Sadie confesses that the "surprise" in the casserole was cauliflower that Mortimer admits that she was right (in a roundabout manner). On the way home, Sadie suggests a nip of lemonade. "Oh, no, I can't... Every time I drink lemonade, it starts to rain".

There's something about Sutton's language in this book that lends itself to reading aloud. Partly it's the placement and emotional resonance of the pictures. Partly, it's how well Sutton puts her words together. This isn't something I'll be able to describe. Suffice it to say, Sutton has her writing chops firmly in place. Meanwhile, illustrator Jim Harris (best known at this point in time for the Cajun tale, "Petite Rouge") is all about the details. And I, a sucker for any illustrator who cares enough to render a rather believable animal-run DMV, approve of his work heartily. Harris is clever enough to spot his pics with little literary shout-outs as well. When Mortimer comes crashing through the DMV wall (having apparently first waylaid some poor soul's washing line) you can see a rather startled mole reading, "Wind In the Willows". I also loved the eye chart in the back with the permanently fuzzy letters on it. It's interesting to note that though the book is steeped in nostalgia, its steeped in several different kinds of nostalgia. There's the country-style homes of Sadie and Mortimer, melded together with a kind of soft 1950s pizza shop. There's a lot of wooden furniture and old-fashioned radios and animals wearing hats. Depending on your tolerance for this kind of thing, you may love the book or abhor it. I, for one, adored it.

To nitpick, I wasn't as pleased with the last line as I might have been. For me, the lemonade superstition should've been like the cauliflower. That is to say, something Mortimer could control. Had he said, "Every time I drink lemonade I feel grouchy" or "Every time I drink lemonade people are mean to me", that would've worked better in the context of the story. Better yet, Sadie could have said something like that! Make her the unwise one for a change. Ah well. It's a small problem in an otherwise very nice book.

Should you find yourself in need of picky eater books, books containing Australian animals, or books that read aloud well and contain objects that begin with the letter "C", "The Trouble With Cauliflower" has your number. Beautiful to look at and lovely to say, it's a class act through and through. A droll little discovery.


At 2:53 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Ms. 8.

Is it possible to include a couple of the well written lines or is that considered inappropriate?

Especially curious how the book begins...

Oh well, may be time for another trip to the bookstore.

My latest purchases: Waiting for Gregory (thanks to you) and Sleepy Boy by Polly Kanevsky.


At 10:22 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

I thought about including lines from the book, but though it reads aloud well it doesn't necessarily translate with any particular oomph. Nonetheless, here is the beginning:

"One night Mortimer's friend Sadie invited him for supper. Whe worked all day cooking a stew. "That smells great!" said Mortimer. "What's in it?"
"I put in lots of banana skins..." said Sadie.
"Mmm," said Mortimer, tucking his napkin under his chin.
"And plenty of coconut meat..."
"Yum yum," said Mortimer, bringing his fork to his lips.
"And some cauliflower."
"Ack!" screamed Mortimer, dropping his fork.

You get the idea. The pictures really bring it to life too. Primo expactoration, I tell you. Hope this weighs into your decision.


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