cover image Willy's Silly Grandma

Willy's Silly Grandma

Cynthia C. DeFelice. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-531-30012-1

""Silly Grandma!"" is an African American boy's skeptical response to his grandmother's numerous superstitious directives: she doesn't want Willy to cut his toenails on Sunday or count the stars "" 'cause it surely does bring bad luck."" Willy defiantly flouts every edict to prove her wrong. But when the brash youngster encounters the bogeyman in the swamp, it is, ironically, his grandma who reassures him: ""There's no bogeyman, little Willy, I can tell you that for true."" Using dark crayons and ink, Jackson (Great Aunt Martha) impressively manages to both scare and comfort her audience: her handsome, luminous characters express obvious love for each other, yet her eerily lit spooky scenes are nightmarish (the jacket illustration fails to suggest the range, energy and eccentricity of the artwork within). One scene, shaped like a gaping dark maw, shows the perverse Willy wearing only one shoe, with a parade of bizarre creatures trailing behind him; it is flanked by a reassuring little house and an oval picture of Willy dismissing his ""Silly Grandma,"" the book's refrain. DeFelice's (Three Perfect Peaches) clever, lively text skillfully uses vernacular speech to convey Willy's sassiness and his grandma's folksiness. While the power of Grandma's precautions may be in question, the skill of both author and illustrator is clearly beyond doubt. Ages 4-7. (Mar.)