cover image A Cake for Herbie

A Cake for Herbie

Petra Mathers. Atheneum Books, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83017-4

Herbie and Lottie, Mathers's winsome duck-and-chicken duo (Lottie's New Beach Towel; Lottie's New Friend), are in town for groceries when they spy an announcement for a poetry contest. ""A Cake for a Poem,"" the poster reads. Being inordinately fond of both, Herbie sets to work, and with a bowl of chocolate pudding as his muse, he composes an alphabetically organized poem entirely about food (""A: Artie chews,/ Artie swallows,/ Artichokes""). The audience boos his masterpiece, though, and with Lottie sick in bed, he has nowhere to turn for consolationDuntil he meets up with the versifying cooks and waiters at the Ship's Inn restaurant. After an evening of conversing in rhymed couplets, they send him home with his self-esteem restored and a magnificent cake to boot. Mathers's droll, economical text and vibrant, equally economical visuals in tidy panels combine seamlessly to portray Herbie's anticipation, anxiety, humiliation and grateful sense of belonging. She captures the humor and sweetness of his efforts in idiosyncratic, perfectly childlike detail: thinking ""makes his head hot""; he blushes when Lottie gently corrects his spelling (""I like it, but caramel custard starts with C""). A funny, reassuring addition to a highly appealing series, this makes a delectable dessert indeed. Ages 4-8. (May)