If you were a janitor named Al living in one room on the West Side, and if you lived with your faithful dog named Eddie who desperately wanted a little room to run around, and if a talking bird appeared in your window and offered you a one-way ticket to paradise, well, what would you do?
Probably the same thing Al and Eddie did, unless you'd happened to finish this book first. Let's just say there is trouble in paradise, and when our janitor and his dog make it back home they are poorer and wiser. But they resolve to enjoy life with a much better attitude, so there is a happy ending, after all.
Once you realize that the author and illustrator were protégés of Maurice Sendak this odd book might start to make more sense. Or not. There was some controversy surrounding Hey, Al winning the fiftieth Caldecott medal. It's easy to see why. Paul Zelinsky's Rumpelstiltskin was up that year, and it was passed over to win the honor medal instead.
Besides that fact, Hey, Al is simply a strange picture book. What is the story trying to say, for one thing? Don't aspire beyond your station, or be content with what you have? The literal interpretation, perhaps, is that it's better to be a janitor in a one room apartment than a bird in paradise. Like the Odyssey's Lotus-Eaters we're asked to take for granted that staying on the island is a bad thing.
Of course, it is better to work for a living than to lounge around, and perhaps this is what Yorinks was trying to get across. Yet, in a book for children, this message might be lost in the mildly disturbing images of people turning into birds and dogs nearly drowning in the ocean. This is not a terrible book by any means. The story and pictures are wonderfully in sync, and perhaps its for that reason that it won the Caldecott medal. But it's a bit odd and a bit confusing. We'll leave it up to your personal taste.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here
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