Nancy Willard, Author, Jenny Mattheson, Illustrator , illus. by Jenny Mattheson. Little, Brown $14.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-316-94006-1

This frilly offering from the author of such full-scale picture-book fantasies as The Tale I Told Sasha uses the structure of The House That Jack Built to relate a Gingerbread Man–style plot. The opening is just comic enough to tip the author's hand: a mouse hides under the beribboned hat that Grandmother wears, and only the cat notices. Enter a girl struggling to carry a huge, three-tiered cake (a birthday surprise for Grandmother) and it's a sure bet that the mouse will choose that moment to flee, the cat in hot pursuit, and upset the cake-bearer. The cake, however, doesn't fall: "It sprang to the floor/ and picked itself up and rolled out the door." Grandmother's party guests chase the runaway cake ("Things couldn't be worse!") as the tale closes with the promise of yet more mayhem ("I hear a bee in Grandmother's purse"). Debut artist Mattheson rises to the challenges in Willard's text, rendering the story in a slightly quirky, retro but representational style that encourages readers to suspend disbelief. In an early picture of the mouse crawling under the hat, for example, readers may be cajoled by the lifelike details into seeing a realistic setting—but for the mouse's extravagantly long tail. The oil paintings, glowing as if lit by birthday-cake candles, become subtly more fantastic, climaxing in the buttercream-smooth transformation of the cake from food to fugitive. The tale may be fun frippery, but it introduces an artist of substance. Ages 3-6. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/07/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Ebook - 978-0-316-08907-4
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