Fuse #8

Friday, May 12, 2006

Review of the Day: Thelonius Monster's Sky-High Fly Pie

It's Friday everybody. You know what that means. It's time to sacrifice our weekly devotion to the Gods of Poetry. In my case, that doesn't mean actually writing a poem, but rather reviewing an upcoming children's book of the stuff. Other bloggers have already posted reviews of this particular puppy, so I don't feel too guilty putting this one out prior to its release date later this month.

The cartoonists of the New Yorker have never been able to resist the siren song of the world of children’s book illustration. Some of them, particularly Harry Bliss, have made the transition without so much as a hiccup. And of course it goes the other way around too. William Steig for years drew odd and bizarre little pieces for the mag when he wasn’t penning children’s classics. Edward Koren is another matter altogether. I’ve always loved his furry, hairy, wide-eyed people/monsters/birds/etc. Till now only book to his name was his own, "Very Hairy Harry”. Now he’s been paired with Judy Sierra of, “Wild About Books” fame. The result is, “Thelonius Monster’s Sky-High Fly Pie” with black and white pen and inks by Koren. It’s not the most original of books and the rhymes leave something to be desired, but it remains amusing enough to satisfy those parents who already like the illustrator or the author and want something droll for the nursery.

Written in rhyme the story tells the tale of Thelonius Monster (no relation to Mr. Monk) who realizes one day that flies are delicious. So delicious, in fact, that he decides to bake hundreds and thousands of them into a pie. To do so Thelonius makes a crust with an extra-sticky filling, then lures his flies from every conceivable (slash disgusting) place to stick to his pie. That done, the guest-monsters arrive and look forward to a delicious repast. All seems to be going when until all of a sudden the pie lifts off of the ground thanks to the flapping wings of the flies. It takes off, the crust falls to the ground, and the flies are free. You might think that old Thelonius would be disheartened by this development, but his guests love the taste of the now fallen crust and tell him, “You’re a fabulous cook! You’re a wonderful guy!”. Happy ending for all.

What Sierra has done here is provide us with an alternative to the old I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie story. Sierra’s chorus even offers the little after-rhymes that mimic the “perhaps she’ll die” portion of the original song. Don’t try to sing this book to the “Old Lady” tunes, though. Sierra’s lines scan but sometimes shoot off into entirely different directions, making them impossible to sing. I give extra points to Sierra for the use of the word, “galumphing”, by the way, since it’s such an amusing little word. The story is fine too. It’s not extraordinary. It won’t grab you by the collar and wake you up. It’s just nice. People who like it will like it and people who are bored with it will be bored.

Koren does some lovely things with this story. Eschewing any color except for the green of the flies’ wings, the book is primarily drawn in black ink. The flies, for their part, have small human faces, which makes their eventual escape that much more pleasant. There is a rather manure-laden sequence in which Thelonius locates four different animals, each of whom has recently... um... produced some natural fertilizer (if you know what I mean). The flies congregate and the monster is able to capture them. Actually, it took me four or five readings of the book before I realized what this two-page spread was really about. Undoubtedly some parents will have a greater dislike of such a sequence in a picture book than others. Koren has certainly made Sierra’s words make sense, but the amount of manure verges on the excessive. I was still fond of the book, though. I liked the signs held up at the end by the other monsters (and some flies) in Thelonius’s honor. The sign, “Marry Me, Thelonius” was one of my favorites.

“Sky-High Fly Pie” is by no means meant to be confused with, “The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake”, though you could be forgiven for doing so. It is a fine book and will garner some fans. Nice all around.


At 11:50 AM , Blogger Greg Pincus said...

A favorite around the GottaBook house has always been The Giant Jam Sandwich (Lord/Burroway) complete with its wonderful 70s illustrations. Similar trapping flying things, though for a different purpose.

And I've seen the band Thelonius Monster in concert a couple times, though they're long ago disbanded. Their song Sammy Hagar Weekend remains a rocking hoot, but not as funny, to me, as seeing a kids book called Thelonius Monster....

At 12:28 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

THANK YOU! I've been scouring my brain trying to remember the title of "The Giant Jam Sandwich" for weeks now. It's a book that's completely out of print AND there is only one single copy in the whole of the NYPL system. I think 15 copies of this book should be donated by charitable sources to every library branch around the country.

I ran into the band Thelonius Monster when I was trying to find images of the cover of this book. Had I but known...

At 2:13 PM , Blogger Greg Pincus said...

Well, then, my littls school library has as many copies as the NYPL. I just read it aloud last week, too, as the K classes were doing ants and...uh... well... I grabbed a different insect book.

Yours from LA... also not a waspish town.


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