cover image Snake Alley Band

Snake Alley Band

Elizabeth Nygaard. Doubleday Books, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32323-9

Nygaard debuts with a musical overture about nature sounds made by birds, frogs, crickets and, of course, snakes. Near a lake, in a woodland called Snake Alley, the snakes gather to perform. ""They hissed: Shhh Shhh Shhh. They bopped their tails: BOOM BOOM BOOM. Shhh-BOOM Shhh-BOOM Shhh-BOOM."" The author never explains how a whiplike tail can make a booming bass thump, but makes the point that snakes prefer the company of other snakes, regardless of their monotonous melody. The turning point comes when the littlest snake meets some other noisemakers, among them a bird (""Tweet-tweedle-dee-deet"") and a frog (""cha-BOP cha-BOP cha-BOP""). He notes that reptiles aren't the only ones with rhythm and, rejected by his peers, forms the multispecies Snake Alley Band. The parable ends with the hero jamming in harmony with the other wildlife. Nygaard suggests that diversity offers plenty of possibilities, but never resolves the subplot about the segregationist snakes. Lewin (Yo, Hungry Wolf!), too, keeps the tone light with her loosely drawn images. She hints at a wetland setting with cattails and animal tracks in the mud, but her pen-and-ink and watercolor images may seem to some readers more like sketches than finished art. The story has more to do with onomatopoeia than with social skills, falling short in both style and substance, and lacking a note of finality. Ages 4-8. (Aug.)