cover image The Story of James

The Story of James

David M. McPhail. Dutton Books, $11.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-525-44529-6

James returns from fishing to find his little brother missing; the wagon is empty except for a wet note with its words too blurred for James to read. Luckily, the fish James caught claims it can read wet notes, and tells him his brother's been taken to the seashore. On his way to rescue his brother, James gets a ride from a lion, who is so moved by his sad story that ``he didn't have the heart to eat James for lunch as he had planned.'' Then a riddling owl takes his three cents but gives James no answer, and a turtle ``taxi'' takes his whistle but doesn't know the way to the shore. When James reaches the seashore at last, the big fish, already there, confesses it can't read wet notes after all. Nobody knows where the little brother is. James has no option but to go home--to find his brother already there with Mom. ``I see you found my note,'' she says. This unlikely story's main character is sent off on a wild goose chase and encounters only creatures who trick him or can't help him. McPhail's charming pen-and-ink drawings, with gentle washes of color, while excellent, don't quite salvage the weakness of the delicate, but pointless, fable. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)