I'm so excited! I just learned from Fuse #8 that the most beloved picture book of my childhood has been reissued—and the icing on this cake? The new illustrations are by George Booth. So! Excited!
The book: Never Tease a Weasel by Jean Conder Soule. Did you hear that, father of mine? The very one, the book we quoted a dozen times a day when my sisters and I were tiny. I remember standing in my grandma's kitchen chanting, "Never tease a weasel, Daddy! Not even once or twice..." (The Daddy part was a bit of preschooler editorializing.)
I have hunted for this book to no avail on Abebooks and other bookfinder sources. And now, finally, FINALLY, someone at Random House has gotten smart and brought it back. Who was the brilliant editor, I wonder? I shall have to investigate and send flowers or something. I am that thrilled.
And getting George Booth to do the art! GENIUS! George is a New Yorker cartoonist, but far more important, he was the illustrator of April Halprin Wayland's It's Not My Turn to Look for Grandma—which Bonny Glen regulars might recognize as another one of my favorite picture books ever. Nobody, nobody, does whimsy-with-an-edge like George Booth. He was the perfect choice, an inspired choice, for Never Tease a Weasel, and Fuse#8 seems to agree.
Another illustrator might have gone the ootsy-cutesy route and sacchrined this puppy up by the end. Not Booth. The final image is heartwarming without ever becoming too overtly adorable. It’s nice. That’s what Booth brings to the book. The rhymes are exceedingly clever at times, but it’s the illustrator that has to compliment the action in just the right way. For example, the rabbit in the riding habit, then, hops along in his picture, losing various accouterments as he goes “plop ploppity plop plop.” Booth gets how to do "awkward". If the thought of a possum in an Easter Sunday hat is silly then Booth knows how to make such an image doubly so. Plus, he never makes the mistake of having these ridiculous combinations make any sense. So the goat in a coat “with a collar trimmed in mink”, looks simultaneously goatish AND pissed off. The mule in swimming trunks (blinders still on) leaps from the diving board in pretty much the most peculiar position possible. And even as these various critters do their thing, they’re enticing enough to hold a squirmy child’s attention for long periods of time.
I was an editorial staffer at Random House Children's when Mr. Booth was finishing up the art for Not My Turn to Look for Grandma. As I recall, he had been working on that book for a long, long time, and in the end he began coming into the RH offices to work: his idea, I believe, to get himself past the final hurdles. I was a young coffee-fetcher perched in a cubicle at the end of a long corridor, and I loved to see Mr. Booth amble down the hall in his quiet, courteous, gentle-giant way. I don't believe we ever spoke, unless perhaps he asked once or twice if my boss, his editor, was in her office. Usually my boss was the one who went in search of him, peeking into the room down the hall and around the corner where George had set up camp. Inevitably I would hear her peal of laughter ringing down the corridor within seconds of her arrival in George's office. He cracked her up, every time.
When the finished boards for each page would mosey past my desk, I too would dissolve into helpless giggles: George Booth's art is quietly, deliciously killing. That sneaky old porcupine in the Grandma book! The dirty old dogs! Grandma herself, the hillbilly queen, with her knobby bun and toothless smirk, toes upspread as she slides down a haystack: children's book art doesn't get better than this.
And now, and now! This perfect marriage! I cannot WAIT to get my hands on a copy. Thank you, Betsy, for the heads-up!