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Little Lit: Strange Stories for Strange Kids. By various. Edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. New York: RAW Junior/HarperCollins Children's Books, 2001. 64p. $19.95hc. ISBN 0-06-028626-1.


Kids, teens, adults

The second in the popular Little Lit series, this book contains 16 stories and puzzle/joke pages by a raft of well known, highly respected artists and writers. (In addition, Charles Burns supplied the cover.)

  • "The Several Selves of Shelby Sheldrake" (art spiegelman) puts a very peculiar thing up Shelby's nose--and that's only the beginning....
  • "Roody Hooster"(Martin Handford) is a "Where's Waldo"-type of seek-and-find by the author of Waldo himself.
  • The "Cereal Baby Killer" (Maurice Sendak) has an enormous appetite!
  • "Can You Find...?" (Richard McGuire) is a cool retro-looking seek-and-find.
  • The "Runaway Shadow" (Barbara McClintock) at first exults in its freedom but quickly discovers that it's lost without its owner.
  • "Pretty Ugly" (Ian Falconer and David Sedaris) might remind you of a certain classic Twilight Zone episode, but with a happier ending.
  • "The Little House That Ran Away from Home" (Claude Ponti) is looking for a more compatible owner.
  • "Trapped in a Comic Book" (Jules Feiffer) proves that life inside a superhero comic is less appealing than it might appear.
  • "Mr. Frost" (Posy Simmonds) visits a pair of children one day and grants their reckless wish.
  • "These Cats Today!" (Kim Deitch) is a fond reminiscence of what cats used to be.
  • "Barnaby" (Crockett Johnson) is a reprint of the first episode (1942) of the classic comic strip.
  • "a-MAZE-ing Adventure" (Lewis Trondheim) is a follow-your-own-path maze story with more bite to it than you might expect.
  • "Joke Page" (Marc Rosenthal) supplies several jokes in sequential art format.
  • "The Day I Disappeared" (Jacques de Lostal and Paul Auster) is the puzzled observation of a man who seems to have left his body.
  • "Strange Picture" (Francois Roca) is a find-the-odd-things-in-the-picture game.
  • The endpapers/"Strange Cartoon Lessons" (Kaz) provide two sets of absurd drawing lessons (e.g., "How to draw a CUTE character" tells you to add a goatee and pierced nose).

The final page provides substantial information on every artist, writer, and editor in the book.

I've seen but not read the previous book in the series; I knew it was well regarded. Now, having read this one multiple times, I'm gonna rush out and find the previous one. This is an exceptionally strong set of stories and games for kids that will also be appealing to teens and adults, because while they don't deal with "mature" subject matter, they're skewed enough (and the art is cool enough) that older readers will find plenty to enjoy.

The variety of art alone is enough to recommend the book. From the familiar lines of Sendak and Feiffer to the classic European style of de Lostal, the warm and soft British feel of Simmonds, and the lush Deitch-fest, the book is a sort of mini-primer of modern color comics, from the simple to the complex. (Such publications as the Big Book Of... titles could catch a clue from this kind of visual variety.) But the stories and games are really well done, for which I'm profoundly grateful. (I've been reading a lot of junk lately; I can't believe I read a book of short stories about the Hulk.) My favorites are "Trapped in a Comic Book," "Pretty Ugly," and "a-MAZE-ing Adventure," but they're all good. (The endpapers are GREAT, maybe the best endpapers I've ever seen in any book.) "The Day I Disappeared" is a little anomalous in that it focuses on an adult character instead of a child, and the story is more serious than the rest of the ones in the book. The games and jokes will be familiar to adults but not to kids; they should get a good chuckle over the silent sequence where a boy with a screw in his navel is brought to the doctor, and the doctor unscrews it, and... well, you know.

Most highly recommended for all collections and readers, especially kids. There are a few kid-level icky images (all very cartoony, not at all nasty), but I think the only ones who would object to any of the contents of the book are the knee-jerks who object to everything.


Copyright 2001, D. Aviva Rothschild


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