Monday, October 1

Good Enough to Eat

Brock Cole
FSG 2007

If this isn't a retelling of a classic fairy tale, it sure feels like one. It hits all the right notes and gets the feel of a Grimm story with a strident ease.

A poor girl with no name is called many things by the people of her town -- Scraps-and-Smells, Skin -and-Bones, Sweets-and-Treats -- because she stands around the market stalls selling what food scraps and paper puppets she can mange to get by. Whenever necessary, she begs.

The people of the town ask the mayor to do something about her but, in pitch-perfect political avoidance he points out "The poor are always with us" and the matter is settled as far as he's concerned.

One day the town is visited by an ogre who comes for a fair maiden. None of the townfolk are willing to part with their daughters but they're quick to offer up the poor homeless girl. Set outside the town wall (in a sack, along with other offerings meant to please) the ogre asks "Who goes there?" and when the girl replies by one of her given names "Scraps-and-Smells!" the ogre becomes upset and shouts back to the townfolk "Not good enough!"

They try again, sending the girl out with greater offerings for the ogre, this time she announces herself as Skin-and-Bones and the ogre once again rejects the town's offering. Finally, in desperation, the girl is offered up with swords and weapons and gold and silver. This time she announces herself as Sweets-and-Treats and, as the ogre is pleased by this, commences to gobble the girl up. But in true fairy tale fashion she uses the knife to cut herself out of the ogre's belly and leaves the town behind, taking all their gold and silver as her reward.

And she declares her new name is Good-Enough-to-Eat.

It's a subtle message about how we treat the poor, and how those we sacrifice can come back to get the last laugh, but as a picture book story it is excellent on its surface story alone. The text itself, written with a breezy feel that never drags, contains little rhymed couplets to help propel things along much like a Grimm tale. The familiarity of the text still leaves me feeling like I've read it somewhere before, but not in a bad way.

Cole's watercolor style is expressive and playful in a way reminiscent of James Stevenson. It's a little loose but in the same way that loose jeans feel comfortable. It's not flashy, it's not gimmicky, and if it's an original story then there's no reason why it shouldn't become a modern classic.
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