cover image The Big Baby

The Big Baby

Anthony Browne. Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, $13 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-679-84737-3

The creator of Gorilla and Zoo takes deadpan, deadeye aim at certain family dynamics in this canny picture book cum moral tale. Its main character is introduced to the reader as ``John Young's dad'' (tellingly, John Young himself is never seen). Dad, as his surname suggests, is rather young for his age, a trait Browne demonstrates with crisp text (``He liked very loud rock music'') and precise, even crisper art (Dad, clad in black jeans, black leather jacket and a black T-shirt emblazoned with a pink teddy bear, belts out a tune on his pretend guitar--a tennis racket). Mrs. Young, observing her husband sulking in bed with the slightest of colds or the merest of headaches, turns out to be prophetic when she calls him ``a Big Baby.'' One night Mr. Young downs a bottle of ``Elixa de Yoof,'' and the next day he awakens as a baby--with his same adult face. Like the porcine characters in Browne's Piggybook , the infantile Mr. Young suffers the consequences of his misbehavior. Tart but never mean-spirited, story and art are deliciously ironic, a poker-faced amalgam of the realistic and the absurd. The background is peppered with sly details, e.g., the Youngs' home is decorated with a series of cunning spoofs of famous works of art. All ages. (Apr.)