Some books just shout "Give me as a gift!" This is one of them. It is beautiful as an object--small yet solid, with a book mark ribbon--just plain nice to hold and admire.
And then there are the words and pictures inside. The book consists of twenty three small stories, each with an epistolary core. The letters in each episode are written by a group of animals--snail, elephant, squirrel, ant, and others--and are delivered by the wind from door to door. They aren't long stories, or long letters, and they are written very simply, but they are funny, piquant, and heartfelt.
Here's the first letter:
May I invite you to dance with me on top of your house? Just a few steps? That's what I want most of all.
I promise I'll dance very delicately, so we won't fall through your roof.
But of course, you can never
be really sure.
My favorite, though, is the squirrel's letter to the ant. Or perhaps the squirrel's letter to the letter, or maybe his letter to his table, and the note the table writes back. Or perhaps the bear's heartfelt letter to all the animals, driven by his desperate desire for cake:
I could go on, but won't.
There are lots of cakes, lots of friendships, lots of meditations on life. There are lots of things that are impossible and illogical, but which I had no trouble accepting--after all, if you accept the premise that an ant can write a letter, why not a table? Ahlberg's small and precise drawings capture beautifully the pointful-ness that is embedded even in the shortest of these stories, and bring to life the characters and their letters most beautifully.
I first tried this book while browsing in a bookstore, without much time to ponder--it didn't grab me. But second time around was very different. I got a Cybils review copy in the mail (thank you, Boxer Books!), and read it peacefully in front of the fire--and found it utterly charming. The perfect audience, though, is a tad hard to pin down. It works beautifully as a book to read out loud to an empathetic older child (say five or six), who might well pick it up to be enjoyed independently in after years. I think this would also be a lovely book to read to an infant--peaceful for the reader, as well as the baby! But I think they have grown-up appeal as well, for the right reader--anyone who can understand why one might feel that writing a letter to one's table might be a nice thing to do....the reader who finds piquancy in just about all aspects of daily life.
Tellegen is a famous Dutch author and illustrator. This is the second of his books to be translated into English and re-illustrated by Ahlberg (the Dutch illustrations, says my sister in Holland, are very bold and bright). The first was The Squirrel's Birthday, and Other Parties, and a third, Far Away Across the Sea, is coming out in September.
Other reviews of books in this series can be found at books4yourkids.com, A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Teacozy, and a Fuse #8 Production.