cover image Friday Night at Hodges' Cafe

Friday Night at Hodges' Cafe

Tim Egan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-68076-6

Egan's quirky debut relies on a cautious balance of understatement and zaniness. At first glance, the muted autumnal palette, sleepy small-town setting and quaintly garbed animals radiate cordiality. ``Hodges is considered by many to be the finest pastry chef in the city,'' remarks an unseen narrator. But then comes the twist: ``Too bad his duck is so crazy.'' In the next spread Hodges, a mild-mannered elephant, scowls slightly as a white duck tosses a scoop of ice cream on the floor ``just to watch it smoosh.'' The back-talking duck's behavior worsens when a trio of snappily dressed, mobster-like tigers-disregarding Hodges's ``No Tigers Please'' sign-stalk in and threaten to order ``Elephant Schnitzel'' or even ``Sauteed Duck in an orange glaze.'' A food fight ensues, with Hodges, his duck and the uninvited patrons reaching an understanding over a well-aimed, tasty chocolate souffle. Later, Hodges quietly removes the ``No Tigers'' sign. Egan's characters communicate in small gestures, from raised eyebrows to squinted eyes, that effectively complement the wry narration. And although readers may need help with some words here-``raspberry torte,'' for instance-such highfalutin terms, pronounced in the hardboiled voice Egan's story requires, sound just ridiculous enough to inspire giddiness. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)