JEAN LAFFITE AND THE BIG OL' WHALE

Frank G. Fox, Author, Scott Cook, Illustrator, Scott Cook, Author , illus. by Scott Cook. FSG $16 (32p) ISBN 978-0-374-33669-1

Fox's first children's book presents a picturesque tall tale based on the real-life character of Louisiana native Jean Laffite, a pirate and hero in the War of 1812. As Fox tells it, the infant Jean eschews his bottle of milk for a mug of steaming coffee ("with chicory in it"); at seven, Jean swims all the way up the Mississippi River from Louisiana to Minnesota "and then floated back down." When the boy is 16, the Mississippi mysteriously dries up overnight, and while everyone else worries, Jean sets out to locate the problem. Walking up the levee, "all day and all night," he finally discovers an enormous whale, "stuck in between the banks, like a stopper in a sink." The resourceful boy comes up with a spicy, Cajun-style solution: he sprinkles a pinch of cayenne pepper into the woebegone whale's blowhole. His remedy works better than anyone could have predicted—and occasions a few more outsize adventures. With its deadpan good humor, the folksy narrative will draw readers in to set a spell. Cook's (Lapin Plays Possum: Trickster Tales from the Louisiana Bayou) paintings capture the tale's hyperbole and high spirit in appropriately broad strokes; they deliver the mood of down-home merriment and wisely let the details blur into dabs and streaks of color. A buoyant visit to the bayou of days gone by. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 03/03/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
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