Young Adults, by Daniel M. Pinkwater (Tor, $5.95; ages 10-up). In Young Adults, his latest extravaganza of comic pizzazz, Daniel Pinkwater invokes the tutelary spirits of Dada, Zen, and Mozart, and if you can imagine a combination of these three, you're on the Pinkwater wavelength. If you can't, you should go back to the earlier masterworks, Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy from Mars and the two Snarkout novels, drink deep from those Pierian springs and then rush out for this new book.
Young Adults consists of several different narratives, three of which focus on the Wild Dada Ducks, later the Wild Dharma Ducks. The Ducks first appeared in Young Adult Novel -- reprinted here -- where they sent up most of the clich,es of the contemporary teenage novel. Of course, what seemed to be satire was probably only a case of misunderstanding, for Pinkwater comments that it is his "devout hope that in time he may be able to produce acceptable books about cute furry animals -- and for the older reader -- stories about high schools in California with really good athletic programs and uniformly attractive students."
Sadly, the two new episodes about the Ducks, "Dead End Dada" and "The Dada Boys in Collitch" indicate that Pinkwater has a ways to go before he manages to write such "acceptable" books. Both these stories are hilarious. In the first the Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), Charles the Cat and the other Ducks learn about Zen, find a master in the owner of a laundromat, and watch with envy as their erstwhile creature Kevin Shapiro snags the affections and attentions of Himmler High's three most desirable nymphets. In the second, the five buddies go off to Martwist College and make enemies of both Ronald Rubin, leader of the Christian Crusade and Student Court, and John Holyrood, the Beast of Nixonn Hall.
Between these principal tales, Pinkwater interpolates a pair of cartoon-narratives about Mozart defending the universe against "an evil presence from space"; as an extra treat, he then includes, in their unbowdlerized versions, that thrilling epic "The Buttoniad" and the chilling "Pigamorphosis." Young Adults finally winds up with "The Confessions of Pinkwater," in which the author must defend himself and his work before a heavenly tribunal, else he will never pass through the Girly Gates. Puns proliferate, but behind the jokes Pinkwater offers a defense of artistic freedom. He concludes, naturally, with "To be continued." This reader for one can hardly wait for "Chapter 23456765432: The Return of Rosenschlag."
The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell; illustrated by Maurice Sendak (Pantheon, $12.95; all ages). In poetry Randall Jarrell favored the nostalgic, wistful, even sentimental -- women characters yearn for vanished beauty or the love they have never known, an older man may remember the lost world of childhood, or study a girl asleep in the library. To me, his poems have always seemed immensely touching, the tears they verge upon true to a feeling of "lacrimae rerum sunt." In his book reviews, however, Jarrell could slash and stab with a wit so cruel that poets would cringe at the thought of their slim volumes in his hands.
At the end of his life Jarrell, suffering from depression and illness, turned to writing children's books, and in this genre was able to curb his two demons of sentimentality and cruel wit. Of these late works, which include The Bat-Poet, The Gingerbread Rabbit and Fly by Night, the undisputed best is The Animal Family. Beautifully composed -- who would have expected less from its author? -- and hauntingly illustrated by Maurice Sendak, this tale of a hunter who finds himself a family has gradually become a classic, one properly reissued in a facsimile of its original edition.
A hunter, lonely in his forest cabin near the sea, one night hears a mermaid singing. Soon, the odd pair become a couple, happy with their mutual strangeness. Eventually, though, they long for a little boy. One night the hunter returns with a bear cub, who joins the family and grows apace: "By the end of the summer, he was so big that, when he ran, he looked like a bed galloping across the meadow." When he got wet, "drying him was like drying a marsh: they could have taken everything in the house, rubbed him with it, and in the end they and everything in the house would have been wet and the bear still not dry." Next, a lynx joins the hunter, mermaid, and bear. And then, one day, a lifeboat is washed ashore and inside lies a baby boy, who becomes the joy of all the others.
As a paean to family life, few books can be more moving, more beautifully and simply told than this one. Everyone should read it.
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, by Roald Dahl; Illustrated by Quentin Blake (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $11.95; ages 8-12). Hardly a season goes by without a book from Roald Dahl, which is certainly all right by me. In this latest, three animals organize the Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company: a monkey climbs up a giraffe's neck while a pelican hovers with a beak full of water. Soon, this enterprising trio acquire a business manager in a young boy named Billy, who dreams of owning a candy store, just as the three animals each dream of their favorite foods. All wishes come true when the company lands a contract washing the 677 windows at the Duke of Hampshire's castle and, while on the job, thwarts that notorious jewel thief, the Cobra.
After a few years off the mark, Dahl has produced some splendid books recently, especially the chilling fantasy The Witches (marred only by a touch of that cruelty Dahl brings to his macabre grown-up stories) and the lovely memoir of his childhood, Boy. The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me is too short to be major Dahl -- an honor reserved for masterworks like James and the Giant Peach -- but it still provides plenty of bounce and wit. Quentin Blake's bright, exuberant cartoons add a lot to the fun, so much so that no one -- child or parent -- will want to resist this oversized album.
Shakespeare Stories, by Leon Garfield; illustrated by Michael Foreman (Schocken, $14.95; ages 8-12). For several generations of children there have been two primary introductions to Shakespeare: Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare and -- until their passing a decade or so back -- the Classics Comics versions of the more famous plays. The Lambs, albeit delightful, may prove a little too sentimental for some tastes; such is not the case for Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories, a retelling of some dozen favorites, interlaced with quotation from and faithful to the spirit of the originals. No bowdlerization here: Garfield tells us that Caliban tried to violate Miranda; he doesn't flinch from the pathos in King Lear's final scenes; in Othello the old black ram still tups Brabantio's white ewe. Garfield's achievement is to have made enchanting stories out of great poetic drama.
Michael Foreman's wash illustrations powerfully support the texts, rightly emphasizing the spooky, thrilling, and martial. Shylock passes along a narrow bridge over a ghostly Venetian canal; the spirit of Hamlet Sr. glows on the ramparts; Macbeth stares madly at the spectral dagger floating before his eyes "the handle toward my hand"; Titania frolics with Bottom transformed into an ass. Seen at the right age, these pictures will prove unforgettable.
As good as this book is, it should still be viewed as a supplement to Shakespeare, not a replacement. Children enchanted by Romeo and Juliet or Henry IV, Part One should go on to the originals. With the story line firmly in mind, thanks to Garfield, they can lose themselves to the poetry, whether the linguistic gusto of Falstaff or the serene beauty of Juliet's aubade, "It was the nightingale and not the lark."
Blackberries in the Dark, by Mavis Jukes; pictures by Thomas B. Allen (Knopf, $10.95; ages 7-up). Last year Mavis Jukes' Like Jake and Me explored the relationship between an awkward young boy and his rugged step-father -- and rightly was named a Newbery Honor Book. Blackberries in the Dark may be even more touching and accomplished. A young boy, Austin, goes to visit his grandparent'srm, where he is haunted by the memory of his beloved grandfather who has died since the previous summer. The old man's fishing gear -- his knife, rod, waders and creel -- remind the youngster of all the fun the pair once enjoyed and that seems gone forever.
Grandma tries to comfort Austin, without much effect, until she sends him out picking blackberries near Two-Rock Creek. Gram herself unexpectedly appears decked out in the fishing gear; and together she and Austin learn how to fly-fish. As usual, Jukes employs throughout simple yet unexpectedly rich images -- the broken beads of a doll's necklace reappear as salmon eggs used for bait -- while the story gradually grows beyond its obvious moral about the acceptance of death: Austin also learns to value more fully his grandmother.
Jukes' perfectly cadenced prose exemplifies the art that conceals art, while Thomas Allen's homespun pencil drawings reemphasize the story's pathos and comedy. Blackberries in the Dark looks like a classic.