cover image Sody Salleratus

Sody Salleratus

Aubrey Davis. Kids Can Press, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-55074-281-7

Davis (Bone Button Borscht) narrates this lackluster retelling of the mountain-home folktale, borrowed from Richard Chase's Grandfather Tales (1948), without attempting the vernacular. The plain-spoken introduction presents all the characters but one: ""Once upon a time there was an old woman, an old man, a girl, a boy and a squirrel that lived on the mantelpiece."" Boy goes to the general store to buy some sody salleratus, or baking soda, for making biscuits. On the way home, he disturbs a huge golden-brown grizzly, who growls, ""Who's that walking on my bridge?"" ""It's me-Boy. Me and my Sody Salleratus,"" the child answers, and is promptly eaten. One by one, the family members cross the bridge (with an onomatopoeic ""skumpity-skip"" or ""crunkity-crunk"") and meet the same fate. Only the squirrel evades the bear, by enticing him to a fragile branch; the monster falls from the tree and ""bust[s] wide open."" In a grotesque closing image, the squirrel leans on the head of a brand-new bearskin rug, gorging itself on sody-salleratus biscuits. While the bear and especially the squirrel are closely observed, the caricaturish hillbillies have toothy yokel grins, knobby knees and dirty bare feet. Using pencil and acrylics, Alan and Leah Daniel (the Bunnicula books) note such details as wood-burning stoves and handwoven baskets, but don't create much of a hillbilly homestead. For a warmer, down-homier rendition, try Teri Sloat's picture book, Sody Sallyratus. Ages 3-7. (Mar.)