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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Pied Piper of Hamelin, written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2011. $19.00 ages 6 and up

"The streets and alleyways of Hamelin Town were full of beggars and children like us. In every square, on every street corner, under every bridge, you'd see us. We had nowhere else to go. We begged because we had to, stole because we had to. When you're starving you have to, I promise you. There was no other way to survive."

I love this book! No surprise when the words are written by master storyteller Michael Morpurgo and the full color illustrations are beautifully designed by Emma Chichester Clark. It is a rich and most enjoyable retelling, and I will be certain to share it with others.

The narrator is one of the poor, and he tells this tale of Hamelin and the people who live there, and how they change after a visit with the Pied Piper. He uses a crutch because of an accident with a horse-drawn carriage, and must beg for food with the other 'thief dogs'. They are treated abominably by the arrogant and wealthy mayor, by the rich people of the town and their children.

The town itself is filthy with huge garbage dumps sure to attract vermin. When rats begin to descend on the city, its homes and streets, people are terrified and unable to get rid of them. The mayor sees our narrator and his best friend Emma fighting back and keeping themselves safe; he offers food and lodging for their protection. While the despicable treatment of the poor children changes little, the mayor and his family are thankful for their safety.

All seems hopeless, and a town meeting is called to demand action from the mayor. A surprise visitor makes himself known as he throws open the door of the council chamber:

"This man was long and lanky, with a sharply pointed nose and darting, twinkling eyes that flickered around the chamber. He was so light and nimble on his feet that it seemed as if he were walking on air. And his clothes! You should have seen his clothes! He was dressed in a costume of brightly colored checks and patterns, with a hat on his head that had an enormous brim shading his eyes. He looked like some kind of court jester, or a traveling player maybe. All I knew was that whatever he was, he was wonderfully weird."

How could you not love such descriptive words?

The Piper has a plan, and a price. A promise is made and the Piper does what he has set out to do. When the task is completed, he has some advice for the mayor who takes umbrage to anyone telling him how he should run his city, reneges on his promise and is left to deal with the consequences.

The rest, as they say, is what classic stories are made of...action, reaction, and a happy ending. Lessons taught well can be good lessons to learn, and the people of Hamelin are much better for the Piper's visit and ultimatum.  All's well that ends well!

The artwork will be familiar to fans of this well-known British artist, whose work has graced many previous books. She uses medieval images and patterns to bring the Hamelin of the past to readers of today. The double page spreads had my eyes flitting from one image to the next, trying to take note of every single thing. She creates a piper who is hard to resist and to forget. She fills many of the pages with rats, without terrifying young listeners and causing bad dreams. In fact, I think this would make a great bedtime readaloud. 

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