MANUELO THE PLAYING MANTIS

Don Freeman, Author . Viking $15.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-670-03684-4

In this posthumously published work (the publisher notes in its catalogue that Freeman "left behind illustrations and a finished manuscript" for the story), the creator of Corduroy presents a gentle tale of determination and friendship. A music-loving praying mantis listens appreciatively to an orchestra performing on an outdoor stage. Longing to become a musician himself, Manuelo is disappointed to discover that he makes no sound when he rubs his legs against his wings ("the way crickets and grasshoppers and katydids do whenever they sing") and sets out to find an instrument to play. He attempts to fashion a flute from a hollow cattail, blow into a trumpet flower and form a harp from a "twisty twig" and cobweb strands—all to no avail. An enterprising spider comes to Manuelo's rescue, suggesting that together they might make a cello (but insists, "first of all you must promise not to eat me!"), and they accomplish their mission. A watercolor illustration in twilight shades shows the previous skeptics converted, as grasshoppers and frogs gather to watch the praying mantis who is now a playing mantis, using a bluebird's feather as a bow on his homemade cello. The audience members contribute their own music to create a "glorious insect symphony." Freeman's wispy, occasionally unfinished-looking art ably animates this breezily written story with an upbeat ending. Ages 3-up. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/23/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Genre: Children's
Prebound-Sewn - 32 pages - 978-1-4177-2917-3
Paperback - 32 pages - 978-0-14-240560-4
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