cover image On Top of Spaghetti

On Top of Spaghetti

Paul Brett Johnson. Scholastic Press, $15.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-439-74944-2

Johnson offers readers a goofy backstory for the popular folk song parody, much along the same lines as his look at another novelty hit, Little Bunny Foo Foo. Here, he posits that the title song is about a struggling canine chef named Yodeler Jones who claims that, ever since the fried fritter fricassee parlor moved next door, ""I couldn't haul in a customer with a line and pole."" When a mouse assistant sneezes and sends a promising meatball flying, the lyrics of the song start wafting through the pages (""It rolled off the table/ And onto the floor,/ And then my poor meatball/ Rolled out of the door""), while Yodeler's first-person narrative fills in the details of his meatball pursuit. In keeping with the song's lesser-known third and fourth verses (the entire song appears on the final page), the dog's fortune is made when the mushed meatball somehow yields (overnight) a magical tree that produces ""the most dee-licious meatballs this side of Sicily."" Johnson's work feels less polished here than in some of his previous titles (The Cow Who Wouldn't Come Down); his ink line looks clunky, and his characters feel flat and methodical, even at their most agitated. But it's hard to quibble with a book that's so genuinely genial. The folksy cadences of Johnson's text and the opportunity to break into song will likely raise a smile. Ages 4-8.