cover image The Cheese

The Cheese

Margie Palatini, , illus. by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. . HarperCollins/Tegen, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-052630-6

With a hi-ho the dairy-o, Palatini (the Bad Boys series) tells the story of just how tempting it is to abandon the "Rules and Regulations" that state "the cheese stands alone" in the dell. Like the familiar song on which the story is based, the narrative introduces the characters one by one—the "scurrying and sneaking" rat, the finicky cat, the dog for whom thinking is "not an easy thing," and a girl and her farmer parents—all of whom eventually decide to ignore the rules. With yet another artistic style, Johnson and Fancher (The Day Ocean Came to Visit ) pump up the humor as they cleverly combine cartoon layouts, full-bleed paintings, speech bubbles and textured backgrounds with actual lyrics and music staffs strewn between blades of grass and bits of clothing. The rat in his green checked vest rubs his hands with sniveling worry like Uriah Heep. A sidebar gives "THe Cat's EviDencE" for his estimation of the rat's character. The dog, in his baseball cap with his pink tongue hanging out, is as genial and slow-witted as the story makes him out to be. The surprise ending features the rat ostensibly stealing away the cheese as the other characters prepare for their party snack, but the rat says directly to readers, "Shame on you for what you were thinking. I may be a sneaky rat... but I'm still one big party animal." Ages 4-8. (May)