'Hansel and Gretel'
Once upon a time many years ago, a woodcutter, his wife and their two children, Hansel and Gretel, lived on the outskirts of a dense wood. They were very poor. (I'm not surprised, given that the woods next to the woodcutter's home were still dense. I mean, how efficient could this guy be?) They were so poor they couldn't even afford decent names for their children . . .
Eric Cooper, Springfield
'The Lion and the Mouse'
Once upon a time, in a make-believe land where animals not only talk but interact civilly with one another, completely defying any presumed food chain, and where tired sentence introductions -- such as "It came to pass" and "Once upon a time" -- were used frequently by lazy writers, a mouse was driving down the highway through The Middle of Nowhere (which is a peculiar place because you can arrive there only if you don't intend to) on a hot summer day. This was the kind of hot summer day that put people in bad moods. This was the kind of hot summer day that made "swelter" seem like a distant dream. This was the kind of hot summer day that was so special that three sentences were devoted to describing it.
'An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly'
"There was an old lady who swallowed a fly," writes alert reader Harriet Lipschitz (whose name I am not making up). "I don't know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she'll die." The fly-mastication incident comes to us from the Tupelo Times-Dispatch (motto: "Yay! We're still in business!"). The article goes on to mention how this old lady felt it prudent to continue eating -- a spider, a bird, a cat and so on. She may or may not, in fact, die, but at the very least she will be disappointed in the performance of her federally mandated, low-volume-flush toilet over the next few days.
'The Phantom Tollbooth'
There was once a young boy named (we are not making this up) Milo, who didn't know what to do with himself -- not just sometimes, but always. When he was in school, he longed to be out, and when he was out, he longed to be in. When on the way somewhere, he thought about coming home, and when going home, he thought about going somewhere else. Frankly, Milo was a bit of a doofus. Put it this way: If all the doofuses in the world gathered together in one place -- typically, a Miami highway during rush hour -- they might not elect Milo as their leader, but he would at least be named Majority Whip, which is a lot less kinky than it sounds. Nothing really interested Milo, and he did nothing interesting. Specifically, he did nothing that would be of interest to our market demographic, which is why the rest of this book is about a far more lucrative boy named Harry Potter.
Peter Anspach, Laurel
'Hey Diddle Diddle'
Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon. At this point, the cow exploded . . .