Books

“Lisette’s Lie” by Catharina Valckx

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’s their ability to make things up. We encourage it because it sparks creativity. But at the same time we know 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 are looking to liven up a humdrum day. After some thought, they conspire to do something they’ve never done before: tell a lie. They have no plan or target in mind, until they’re approached by Popof, a good-natured, thickheaded elephant who asks, “What are you up to?” Alas, their improvised ruse, about going on a trip to the mountains, is pretty shaky. For one, there is not a single mountain in sight. Worse yet, Popof decides he’ll join them. This calls for lie No. 2, and it’s a whopper. Lisette points to a small hump of dirt near their feet and declares, “This is it!” Now Popof may be dim, but he knows a fake mountain when he sees one, and to prove his point he grabs a shovel and transforms the hump into, well, a taller hump. Popof’s “mountain” provides a splendid view for our mischievous duo, who suggest he create an adjoining lake. Soon the chatty threesome are splashing in the water and what began as an experiment in deception has, lo and behold, become the absolute truth.

Valckx’s prose is delightfully droll. Her characters may have feathers, a tail and a trunk, but they sound and act like children we know. The text is matched by vivid, loosely painted watercolors and the animals, limned in brisk black brush lines, exude charm.

There is a fable-like quality to the story — though, unlike Aesop, Valckx turns the moral on its head. The lies Lisette tells never truly succeed. That said, I welcomed the last line of the book, a mild rebuke from her amused mother: “But you know, Lisette, you mustn’t tell lies.” It’s tacked on but important. After all, we wouldn’t want her turning this into a habit.

For a more dramatic tale of deceit, there is Susanna Isern’s “Fox Tells a Lie” (available in both English and Spanish editions). The story opens with a group of animals, gathered by a lake in springtime, debating the existence of the mysterious, and possibly mythical, Superturtle. All doubts are put to rest when Fox announces that he, in fact, is a close friend of the flying turtle hero. Name-dropping is tacky enough, but Fox is telling a lie, and — for shame! — he’s just getting started. By the end of the day, his made-up Superturtle stories have turned him into a minor celebrity.

Soon, however, the bloom is off the hoax. A wonderful spread shows a miserable Fox lying in bed at night, dreading he’ll be found out. What can he do? Even when he devises a plan to sneak out of his lies, it pulls him in further.

In the most thrilling moment of the book, Fox’s lies threaten the life of a friend. A riveting page turn reveals a tall tree with a squirrel about to jump from a high branch. Have no fear, no one is hurt. But the near disaster forces Fox to finally fess up. He apologizes. He cries. He’s even scolded. A lesser story might have ended on this somber note, but this one has a surprising twist.

Leire Salaberria’s skillfully composed illustrations, painted in luminous washes of green and orange, include visual clues to a subplot that children will enjoy sniffing out. Her animal characters may look a little wooden, but their features and gestures have a sweet, primitive charm.

Isern’s engaging story makes it clear that deceitful words have perilous consequences, that truth matters and that, just maybe, flying turtle superheroes exist after all.

If we can forgive a fox for telling a lie, what about a chickadee for breaking and entering? This is the alleged crime at the heart of Monica Silvie’s “Chickadee: Criminal Mastermind.” The perpetrator in question, a tiny black-capped bird (“I wear a mask”), is a “bad seed.” Or so he thinks.

The story, told in flashback, describes a happy childhood with loving parents, who warn their chick to stay near the forest and far from people’s homes. So why does this good bird do just the opposite? Blame it on winter, snow, scarcity of food and the unexpected appearance — like a mirage — of a vault, packed with birdseed. Who could blame this hungry creature? It’s no wonder his crime spree commences.

But hold on, readers. Silvie’s goofy conceit is staring us right in the face. This precious “vault of gold,” suspended from a pole in somebody’s backyard, is not private, or even off limits. Suddenly our feathered antihero seems extremely sympathetic. He’s no criminal; he’s simply, uh, clueless. It’s a wry juxtaposition that raises the level of humor another notch.

Silvie’s energetic tale is neatly interwoven with Elina Ellis’s versatile illustrations, featuring caricature, talking balloons, comic diagrams and dramatic shifts of scale, which draw our eyes to the sight gags and to many key elements of the plot.

If a child doesn’t see the central joke the first time, there’s a “slow-motion” replay. But I expect you’ll read this book over and over again. There’s no crime in that!


Jon Agee is the author, most recently, of “Otto: A Palindrama.”


LISETTE’S LIE, by Catharina Valckx; translated by Antony Shugaar | 28 pp. | Gecko Press | $18.99 | Ages 3 to 6
FOX TELLS A LIE, by Susanna Isern; illustrated by Leire Salaberria | 44 pp. | NubeOcho | $15.95 | Ages 4 to 8
CHICKADEE: CRIMINAL MASTERMIND, by Monica Silvie; illustrated by Elina Ellis | 36 pp. | Kids Can Press | $18.99 | Ages 4 to 7

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