cover image Mary Louise Loses Her Manners

Mary Louise Loses Her Manners

Diane Cuneo. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32538-7

In Cuneo's occasionally clever but often forced debut, a slip of the tongue means a loss of manners. ""Pass the pancakes, poop,"" young Mary Louise demands, startling her parents and herself. ""I've paid no attention to my manners, and now they've run away,"" the red-haired girl decides. She combs her neighborhood for them, rudely interrupting conversations, making too much noise and responding, ""Boogers!"" rather than ""Bless you!"" to sneezes. She describes her absent manners to a sidewalk caricaturist, who sketches as she talks; the manners wear a ""neat and fancy party dress"" and have ""big ears for listening... a little mouth to keep naughty words from slipping out,"" etc. The resulting mug shot aids Mary Louise in her quest, but Davis (Music Over Manhattan) never shows readers this portrait. And although the other characters see the manners, they remain concealed from readers' view even after Mary Louise finds them. On the one hand, Cuneo and Davis suggest the thrill of nonconformity. The illustrations, rendered in a freewheeling, satirical cartoon style, show Mary Louise smiling sheepishly yet proudly after each faux pas. On the other hand, ""Mary Louise wished she had exercised her manners more often,"" and her peers look horrified rather than amused when she breaks minor taboos. Unlike Babette Cole's Bad Habits (reviewed above), which leaves room for naughtiness, this work seems to pay only lip service to both the liberating effect of bad behavior and the virtues of politesse. Ages 4-8. (May)