LISETTE’S LIE, by Catharina Valckx; translated by Antony Shugaar
FOX TELLS A LIE, by Susanna Isern; illustrated by Leire Salaberria
CHICKADEE: CRIMINAL MASTERMIND, by Monica Silvie; illustrated by Elina Ellis
If children share one great talent, it is their ability to invent things. We encourage it because it stimulates creativity. But at the same time, we know that making things up isn’t far from telling a lie.
In Catharina Valckx’s Lisette’s Lie, a plucky little bird named Lisette and her tiny lizard pal Bobbi try to liven up a boring day. After some thought, they conspire to do something they’ve never done before: tell a lie. They have no plan or goal in mind until they are approached by Popof, a good-natured stubborn elephant, who asks them, “What are you up to?” Unfortunately, their improvised ruse of taking a trip to the mountains is pretty shaky. For one thing, not a single mountain is in sight. Worse, Popof decides to join them. That calls for lie #2, and it’s a whopper. Lisette points to a small mound of dirt by her feet and declares, “That’s it!” Now Popof may be weak, but he knows a fake mountain when he sees one, and to prove his point he grabs a shovel and transforms the hump into a, well, a bigger hump. Popof’s “mountain” offers a magnificent view for our mischievous duo, who suggests they create an adjacent lake. Soon the chatty threesome are splashing in the water and what started as an experiment in deception has, lo and behold, become absolute truth.
Valckx’s prose is delightfully whimsical. Their characters may have feathers, a tail, and a trunk, but they sound and act like kids we know. Lively, loosely painted watercolors match the text and the animals, outlined with brisk black brushstrokes, exude charm.
There is something fabulous about the story – although unlike Aesop, Valckx turns morals on its head. The lies Lisette tells are never really successful. Still, I welcomed the book’s last line, a mild rebuke from her amused mother: “But you know, Lisette, you mustn’t lie.” It’s pinned, but important. After all, we don’t want her to make a habit of it.
For a more dramatic cheating story, there’s Susanna Isern’s Fox Tells a Lie (available in English and Spanish editions). The story begins with a group of animals gathered by a lake in spring, discussing the existence of the mysterious and possibly mythical super turtle. All doubts are dispelled when Fox announces that he is in fact a close friend of the flying turtle hero. Attribution is cheesy enough as it is, but Fox is telling a lie and – too bad! – he’s just getting started. At the end of the day, his made up Superturtle stories made him a minor celebrity.
Soon, however, the bloom strayed from the vertigo. A wonderful spread shows a miserable fox lying in bed at night, afraid of being discovered. what can he do Even as he devises a plan to sneak out of his lies, he’s drawn further in.
In the book’s most tense moment, Fox’s lies threaten a friend’s life. A captivating change of sides reveals a tall tree with a squirrel about to leap from a high branch. Don’t worry, nobody will get hurt. But the near-disaster forces Fox to finally admit it. He apologizes. He cries. He is even insulted. A smaller story might have ended so bleakly, but this one has a surprising twist.
Leire Salaberria’s skillfully composed illustrations, painted in vibrant greens and oranges, contain visual clues to a subplot that kids will be keen to sniff out. Her animal figures may look a little wooden, but there’s a cute, primitive charm to her features and gestures.
Isern’s captivating story makes it clear that deceitful words have dangerous consequences, that the truth counts and that maybe superheroes with flying turtles do exist after all.
If we can forgive a fox for lying, what about a tit when it breaks in and enters? This is the suspected crime at the heart of Monica Silvie’s Chickadee: Criminal Mastermind. The culprit in question, a tiny black-capped bird (“I wear a mask”), is an “evil seed.” Or so he thinks.
Told in flashbacks, the story describes a happy childhood with loving parents who warn their chick to stay near the forest and far from people’s homes. So why is this good bird doing the exact opposite? Blame it on winter, snow, food shortages and the unexpected appearance – like a mirage – of a vault full of bird seed. Who could blame this hungry creature? No wonder his crime spree begins.
But wait, reader. Silvie’s silly conceit is staring us straight in the face. This precious “gold vault” suspended from a pole in someone’s backyard is not private or even forbidden. Suddenly our feathered anti-hero seems extremely likeable. He’s not a criminal; he’s just, uh, clueless. It’s an ironic juxtaposition that takes the humor to another level.
Silvie’s high-energy story is deftly interwoven with Elina Ellis’ eclectic illustrations, which include caricatures, speech bubbles, comic diagrams and dramatic shifts in scale, drawing our attention to the many gags and key plot elements.
If a child doesn’t see the central joke the first time, there is a “slow motion” replay. But I trust you will read this book over and over again. There is no crime in that!
Jon Agee is the author of Otto: A Palindrama.
LISETTE’S LIE, by Catharina Valckx; Translated by Antony Shugaar | 28 p. | Gecko Press | $18.99 | Ages 3 to 6
FOX TELLS A LIE, by Susanna Isern; illustrated by Leire Salaberria | 44 p. | NubeOcho | $15.95 | Ages 4 to 8
CHICKADEE: CRIMINAL MASTERMIND, by Monica Silvie; illustrated by Elina Ellis | 36 p. | children can | press $18.99 | Ages 4 to 7