cover image The Little Red Pen

The Little Red Pen

Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel, illus. by Janet Stevens, Harcourt, $16.99 (56p) ISBN 978-0-15-206432-7

Initially echoing the plot of "The Little Red Hen," sisters and longtime collaborators Stevens and Crummel introduce a bespectacled, schoolmarmish red pen with a stack of papers to grade. Her desk-drawer friends, however, refuse to help, even when the Little Red Pen insists, "If these papers aren't graded, the students won't learn.... The sky might fall. It might be the end of the world!" When the pen, exhausted from grading, falls into the wastebasket—aka "The Pit of No Return"—her friends must rally to rescue her. Stevens's full-bleed illustrations caricature the office supplies in a style reminiscent of Sir John Tenniel, from a bucktoothed Stapler and fuzzy-haired Highlighter to a tiny pushpin, Señorita Chincheta, who makes up for her small size with her emphatic bilingual declarations. But while the story is often verbally clever, with many humorous individual scenes (Stapler's idea of correcting papers is stapling all over the offending paragraph), the convoluted plot and numerous speaking characters (six desk-drawer friends, plus a ruler, yardstick, paperclip box, and a lethargic hamster) make the story as a whole feel overlong and overdone. Ages 6–9. (Apr.)