THE STORY OF FROG BELLY RAT BONE
Timothy Basil Ering, . . Candlewick, $16.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1382-2
Quirky illustrations belie a conventional plot in Ering's debut, about a stick-figure boy living in "a dull, gray, endless place called Cementland." Among rusty, dripping pipes and poured-concrete slabs of beige and blue, the boy finds "greasy toaster ovens, broken TVs, and wet smelly socks. But no treasure." One day, he discovers a copper-green trunk packed with colorful envelopes and cryptic instructions: "Put my wondrous riches into the earth and enjoy." He opens an envelope and puts the contents—"hundreds of tiny gray specks"—into the ground. Then, "he gathered those wet smelly socks. He found moldy pillow stuffing and scraggly wires. He patched, buttoned, sewed, and zipped." His bulging creation, a benevolent and distended talking scarecrow named Frog Belly Rat Bone, guards the specks from a rabbit, rat and fruit fly. In time, Cementland blooms with flowers and vegetables, and the junkyard of soupy grays yields to an explosion of color. Ering loads the pages with expressive smears, splatters, squiggles and kinky lines, and the book's matte, embossed cover emphasizes the tactile quality of his art. Yet despite its edgy-looking visuals and scratchy hand-lettered text, this allegory is as overstuffed with sentiment as Frog Belly himself. It advises patience in sowing the seeds of change, but takes a naïve, idealizing view of childhood and delivers a message in place of a story. Ages 4-7.
Reviewed on: 03/31/2003