cover image I, Crocodile

I, Crocodile

Fred Marcellino. Michael Di Capua Books, $19.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205168-4

This first picture book that Marcellino (Puss in Boots) has both written and illustrated is a pi ce de r sistance. According to the witty green narrator of this singular tale, Egypt was a paradise until ""(to be precise) August 17, 1799."" That day, Napoleon spoils the crocodile's bulrush idyll. Seated on a white steed, the emperor orders his troops, ""Mummies! I want mummies!... And a sphinx and an obelisk. Make it a big one."" In refined watercolor spreads, Napoleon's soldiers obligingly plunder temples and, as an afterthought, snare the crocodile, too. ""What a cruel and abrupt departure from my mudbank,"" the caged reptile reports from a ship laden with Egyptian booty. The protagonist's irreverent tone serves as a perfect counterbalance for Napoleon's disrespect for Egyptian culture, and the varied use of vignettes, thought balloons and spreads keeps the pacing brisk. In one series of vignettes, Marcellino chronicles the lengthy journey and the creature's near starvation (""Was anyone keeping track of all the meals I was missing?"") accompanied by its hyperbolic facial expressions. Upon reaching Paris, the crocodile achieves star status in a spread that conveys a capital worthy of its nickname, the City of Lights. Later, having fallen from favor, the croc escapes to the sewer system and, in comical facing pages, surfaces to snag a high-society lunch (feathered turban and all). Although its plump pickle-shaped body, chubby legs and devastatingly polite manner don't seem threatening, this is one stolen artifact that literally bites back. All ages. (Oct.)