Saturday, July 14

Ned's New Friend


By David Ezra Stein
Simon and Schuster 2007

I'm not going to pretend I wasn't disappointed, but you can only be disappointed if you have expectations. The problem is that I really liked Stein's first outing with Cowboy Ned and Andy and it was hard not to want more of the same.

This time around Cowboy Ned and his faithful horse Andy have hit the end of the dusty trail in Abilene. After a clean shirt for Ned and oiled hooves for Andy they are about to enjoy a couple of well-deserved root beer floats when...

SHE walks by.

Clementine. Oh. My. Darlin'.

One look at this creature of beauty and Ned is frozen, tripping off the boardwalk and tumbling into the streets of Abilene along with the root beer floats. She offers the fallen gent a hankie to clean up with and lets him know he can return it the next day at her place on the edge of town. Mr. Horse does not like, no sir, he does not. For one thing he's out a root beer float and for another thing that scented hankie wields some sort of power over Cowboy Ned that aims to lose him his best friend in the whole wild west. Andy knows it's serious when Ned actually takes a bath in preparation for returning the hankie the next day.

That night, after a dream of Cowboy Ned and Clementine drifting into the clouds in a balloon leaving him behind, Andy plots to dispose of the hankie Ned has placed for safekeeping under his pillow. But the perfume causes Andy to sneeze, sending the hankie out onto the street. A dimwit robber tries to use the hankie as a bandanna but the perfume tickles his nose as well and gets him caught. Eventually the hankie drifts into Clementine's rose bushes where it remains lodged for the night.

Cowboy Ned and Andy arrive at Clementine's the next day but Ned is despondent at having lost the lovely lady's hankie. Andy sees the hankie in the bushes and realizes that it's more important that his friend be happy so he retrieves it and all is well. At the door Clementine sees that Ned's brought his horse with him and she invites them both in for cookies.

And then all three of them are shown flying off in a balloon of bliss.

If you think I have a problem with Ned going soft at the sight of a twig-thin damsel you'd be part right. If you think I have problems with a jealous horse, well, no, I don't have a problem with that.

What really bothered me was that this book is visual, it lacks the previous books boldness of color. Compared with the open plains and nighttime skies, the town of Abilene is rendered in a sort of inky clutter that doesn't register well with the eye. The loose, practically dry brush effect from Stein's previous book here looks almost sloppy. The sitting room at Clementine's place has a wall paper pattern and carpet so busy, and at the same time so splotchy, that I wondered if had been created by the same author. From page to page each version of Cowboy Ned was different enough -- a little thin here, a bit rotund there, moustache too big or some weird caterpillar shape -- I had a problem with that for some reason. Not unlike the problem I had with Edwardo a while back.

If Babar or Curious George looked different from book to book and page to page would these books have been popular or still be the classics they are today? I'm not suggesting there's a connection between consistency of image and a books place in the pantheon of children's literature, but at some basic level don't readers want to be able to identify the characters on the page?

Am I being too cranky about this?
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