cover image Free Lunch: 4

Free Lunch: 4

J. Otto Seibold. Viking Children's Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-670-86988-6

Seibold and Walsh specialize in street-smart art and convoluted story lines, and this addition to the Mr. Lunch series does not disappoint. Mr. Lunch, an entrepreneurial white dog, chases birds professionally. To keep the birds happy, he must order lots of birdseed from the Elephant Brand Bird Seed Company. When a bad elephant takes over the business, however, Mr. Lunch and his feathered friends seek their meals elsewhere. In fact, they get a ""free lunch"" from a generous bird who ""live[s] in the country, surrounded by birdseed trees."" This angers the birdseed magnate, who ""hatche[s] an evil elephant idea"" and sends Mr. Lunch to jail, thus providing another meaning for the title. In contrast to the ridiculous chain of events, Seibold and Walsh maintain a serious, logical tone; this deliberately silly approach complements Seibold's illustration style, a sort of cubism for the '90s. His computer-generated, airbrush-smooth characters resemble digital icons, but their asymmetrical quality lends them a hand-drawn warmth. The spreads are abuzz with comical details (an elephant enjoys free peanuts on an airline; the jailed Mr. Lunch receives a cake frosted with a secret message), and Seibold chooses a one-of-a-kind palette of brassy yellow, pickle green, gunmetal blue and brick red. Consider this a corporate-minded suspense-thriller for the elementary-school set. Ages 3-8. (Oct.)