cover image Hugh Can Do

Hugh Can Do

Jennifer Armstrong. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-517-58218-3

This story of the capable Hugh, told in a rhythmic text that hurries along like the hero, is a read-aloud natural. The protagonist--``as poor as a rabbit but as quick as a fox''--seeks his fortune in the city, but to get there must complete a series of tasks: procure a loaf of bread to pay his toll over the river, grind flour for the baker to get the loaf, mend the miller's apron so that he'll mill the grain, etc. The lad confidently meets these challenges, and even puzzles out an unusual one given him by ``a shrivelly crone.'' Along the way his cheerful attitude wins him friends, who--in a fetching final twist that shows self-reliance is not always enough--ultimately return his favors. Root, using a medieval setting with rough-hewn peasant characters (similar to her work in Boots and His Brothers ), handsomely alternates small spots of Hugh dashing about his tasks with emotive, full-page scenes. In her first picture book, Armstrong's prose possesses a captivating vibrancy and immediacy; her fluent verbiage often reads like poetry: ``He traveled for days and dreamed of his fortune, and how he would make it, and where, and how soon.'' A valuable lesson presented in a book to be valued. Ages 4-9. (Sept.)