cover image Rotten Teeth

Rotten Teeth

Laura Simms, David Catrow. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-82850-2

First-grader Melissa Hermann needs something for show and tell. In her dentist dad's office, with the help of her brother Norman she finds a bottle full of pulled teeth. Melissa carefully washes enough teeth to give one to every member of her class, then disguises the bottle in a brown bag. In a suspenseful scene--rendered even more dramatic by a worm's-eye view of desks and gaping students--Melissa slinks to the front of the classroom with her prize and stands there nervously. ""Finally she opened up the bag, held up the bottle, and blurted out, `ROTTEN TEETH! FROM REAL MOUTHS!' "" With just a dash of hyperbole, Simms (The Bone Man) explains how the teeth horrify Melissa's teacher but enhance the girl's popularity among her peers. At recess, Melissa captivates her audience with gruesome tales of dentistry and learns the power of storytelling. If Simms's intent is to banish shyness, Catrow's (Westward Ho, Carlotta!) goal is to catapult a humorous story into the realm of the tall tale. He boosts the irony by providing Melissa with ample show-and-tell oddities; her home not only houses a dentist's office but is a Victorian curiosity shop of bizarre decorations (a boar's head, a prehistoric skull) and living oddities (a monkey, an elephant, a Venus flytrap). Catrow tints his over-the-top watercolor illustrations with dental-decay-inspired yellows and greens, and he dresses his gawky, frizzy-haired characters in ridiculously mismatched clothes. This not-for-the-squeamish volume should impress future fans of Southern gothic. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)