Browne again proves himself an artist of inventive voice and vision as he creates perhaps his most psychologically complex work to date via a commonplace experience--a brief sojourn to a city park. The author of King Kong and the Willy stories again features anthropomorphic chimps, who provide four unique perspectives: an uppity, overbearing mother and her glum son, Charles; and an unemployed fellow and his cheerful daughter, Smudge. What transpires factually is simple: the two children play together, their dogs do the same, the adults keep to themselves. Yet Browne reinvents and overlays the scene as each parent and child in turn describes their version of the events, altering light, colors and words. Browne sets up the tension by starting off with Charles's stylishly dressed mother, who lets her ""pedigree Labrador,"" Victoria, off the leash and then scoffs at ""some scruffy mongrel""(Smudge's dog). The matriarch similarly describes Charles's newfound friend as ""a very rough-looking child."" Through Charles's eyes, readers watch the tops of lampposts, gray clouds and a leafless tree take on the shape of his mother's large chapeau, as her hat-dominated figure casts a shadow over the boy. In the succeeding page, Browne cleverly frames a shift in Charles's mood with an illustration divided by a lamppost: threatening clouds and bare trees give way to blue skies and blossoming branches when a smiling, pigtailed (anything but rough-looking) Smudge on the sunny side of the park bench invites Charles to play on the slide. Browne offers readers much to pore over. His images reflect the human psyche; some are eerie (Edvard Munch's ""The Scream"" appears in the want ads; a burning tree provides the backdrop for mother and son's silent exit from the park), others uplifting. For example, the subjects of two portraits leaning on the park wall, a gloomy Rembrandt self-portrait and a weeping Mona Lisa, transform into a dancing couple under a street lamp fashioned from a flower, as the jobless man departs the park, cheered by his daughter. Although some discomfiting tones--in both pictures and text-- appear in the vignettes, Browne also celebrates the redeeming power of connecting with another human being. His creativity invites youngsters to tap into their own, as they look for clues between the trees and add their own spins to Browne's four interconnected tales. Ages 7-11. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998 Release date: 09/01/1998 Genre: Children's
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