Krentz reviews Waugh and Gray novels

From COWS AND CATS AND SEALING WAX, in Once Upon a Time, a children’s fantasy apa, ed. by Laura Krentz. used by permission.

Laura Krentz on Sylvia Waugh’s The Menyms. Used by permission.

The Mennyms live at 5 Brocklehurst Grove. There is Joshua, who works as a night watchman; his wife, Venetta; his elderly father, Sir Magnus; and his mother, Tulip. The children of the family include 16 year old Soobie; 14 year old Appleby; the twins, Poopie and Wimpy; and the baby, Googles. Everything is going along fine, as it always has, until one day a letter arrives from the new owner of their house, Albert Pond, who says he is coming from Australia to visit them. An ordinary family would not have gotten upset, but the Mennyms are not an ordinary family. They are life-size rag dolls, created by the house’s previous owner, Kate Penshaw. After her death, they mysteriously came to life and began to take care of the house on their own. Though they don’t eat or grow older, they are able to go out into the human world to shop or to work, as long as they disguise themselves with glasses, hats and coats. But their secret would be revealed if they allowed Albert Pond to visit. And there are other secrets in the house–Miss Quigley, who lives in the cupboard under the stairs, and another secret lurking in the attic that Soobie discovers one day. The Mennyms are reminiscent of the Tucks in Tuck Everlasting in their unchanging immortality. Fans of The Borrowers and Indian in the Cupboard will also enjoy this intriguing fantasy. Mennyms in the Wilderness is the sequel. Though the ending seemed a little like a cop-out, the rag dolls are vividly brought to life, with their own personalities, problems, and quirks. This is a book worth looking for. It is available in paperback.

Gray, Luli. Falcon’s Egg. (Houghton, 1995) For ages 8-12. [J Fiction]

In a story set in Manhattan, one rainy day, an 11 year old girl named Falcon finds a large red egg in Central Park that is almost too hot to hold. According to the text, “She knew that you must never take an egg from a nest, but she wasn’t sure about eggs without nests; grownups had so many rules that you didn’t know about until you broke them.” Falcon has been having a lot of trouble with grownups lately. Her parents have divorced, and her somewhat flighty mother, Missy, leaves her younger brother, Toody, in Falcon’s care much of the time. Her father, Peter, is always off traveling. But she does have a few reliable adults in her life– great, great Aunt Emily, and her kind African-American neighbor, Ardene Taylor. So Falcon decides to pick up the Egg, carefully wrapping it in her socks, and later buying some souvenirs at the Belvedere Castle gift shop so she can get a shopping bag to carry it home in.

Today is Falcon’s day to have tea and Jelly Tots with Ardene, so Falcon hurries up to her apartment. After they have had their snack, Falcon brings out the Egg and asks Ardene if she will keep it hidden for her. They consult encyclopedias and bird reference books with no success in identifying the specimen. Ardene suggest checking with the Museum of Natural History next door, and Falcon remembers that Aunt Emily knows an ornithologist who works there. The next day, Ardene, Aunt Emily, and Freddy, the ornithologist, meet in Ardene’s apartment. Freddy examines the Egg and declares that he thinks it will hatch, perhaps in a few weeks’ time. The four agree to protect it, and a secret society, the Friends of the Egg, is hatched.

After a long wait, through spring and early summer, finally on a July day the Egg is ready to hatch. This is the day that Falcon has decided to let Toody in on the secret. The Friends of the Egg gather, the Egg moves, an egg tooth emerges, there is a burst of steam, and suddenly the shell splits into three pieces and the hot little creature uncoils. Toody calls it a dinosaur, and Freddy thinks it’s some kind of lizard, but Aunt Emily sees the truth. “It’s a dragon!” she says, her face shining with happiness, and then she adds cryptically, “And who would know better than I?” She tells a story of a strange man she met during the Great War who said he taught dragons to dance. And one magical day, she saw the dragons and danced with them. So, as the resident dragon expert, she is able to tell them that this dragon is a female. The group agrees to continue to call her Egg.
The Friends of the Egg experiment until they find a diet that is healthy and agreeable to Egg, including ground meat and fish, flower blossoms, and boiling water. Egg grows bigger and hotter and soon learns to fly. She must be moved to the aviary on the museum roof above Freddy’s apartment. When she gets even bigger, Falcon buys a collar and leash and takes her out for middle-of-the night flights in Central Park. By Thanksgiving, it becomes clear that Egg is a wild creature, not a pet, and Falcon has to make a serious decision, with the support of her family and friends.

Falcon’s Egg is similar to Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville, in that in each book a young person must care for a growing dragon and finally let it go. It is in the tradition of other great dragon tales such as A Book Dragon by Donn Kushner and Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books. The blend of fantasy and realism is effective. Aunt Emily says dragons come for a reason, and clearly Falcon needs some magic in her life. In a starred review, School Library Journal calls it “a compelling rite-of-passage tale” and says, “Each of the characters is rich in wit, wisdom, and human foibles.” Kirkus calls it “engaging, intelligent, and well-wrought.” Booklist says, “Gray has created a magical fantasyland of such realism that children will easily slip inside along with Falcon and linger even after the final page of the book has been turned.”

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