January 19, 2006

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Mercy Watson to the Rescue, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen (Chronicle Books, 2005, 68 small pages in big typeface)

A+

Two things you need to know about this children’s book: it’s written by the woman who gave us Because of Winn-Dixie, and it stars a pig. Yes, yes, cartoon pigs have been done before. Animated pigs have been done. Mercy Watson, however, is a new pig. Mercy Watson loves buttered toast. Mercy Watson is apparently the only child of a doting (human) couple. And Mercy Watson, unlike many another animal celebrity, is actually dumber than she’s given credit for.

Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations are near perfect. This is how a first chapter book for kids should be – big enough, long enough, chapter-y enough to feel sophisticated, but colorful and illustrated enough (every page with plenty to look at) that nobody’s in danger of getting bored, ever.

We can identify with Wilbur. We can identify with Babe. But how much more pleasant is it to identify with Mercy Watson:

“In the kitchen, Mercy sniffed the table.

She sniffed the kitchen counters.

She sniffed the floor.

But there was no toast.

There was not even a crumb of toast.

Mercy’s stomach growled in disappointment.”

Along with the porcine hero, the story features her bumbling owners, a crotchety old woman, a nice old woman and two head-scratching firefighters called to the rescue when a bed comes crashing through a floor because, well, there’s a pig on it.

It’s an excellent book, one that makes you feel like Mercy does when she snuggles up with her parents: “Mercy felt warm inside, as if she had just eaten hot toast with a great deal of butter on it.”

Lisa Parsons

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