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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? Written by David Levinthal and illustrated by John Nickle. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2012. $20.99 ages 6 and up

"You get all kinds of people coming into a police station. Some are crying, some complaining. But until today I had never seen one come riding in on a broomstick.  "I know my sister is a witch. I'm a witch and our mother is a witch. But she is still a person - well, at least, sort of. And she's been missing for over a week, so I want someone to look for her!"

This is David Levinthal's debut picture book, and it is an auspicious start. He creates such an authentic voice for the plain clothes bullfrog detective Officer Binky. The voice comes out of my past, with memorable television characters from The Naked City and Dragnet popping into my head as I read his cases.

"There are eight million stories in the forest. This is one of them. It was a typical Sunday morning for the Bear family. They had gone out for a walk while their porridge was cooling."

He sets knowledgeable fairy tale fans straight into a familiar story;  then regales them with the doings of a wily and persistent detective who is called to duty whenever anything is amiss. Binky is astute and quickly recognizes past run-ins with various suspects, using all of his experience and abundant knowledge to bring each case to a close.

The cases offer up hilarity and entertainment. A burglary produces clues in the form of a blond hair, an empty porridge bowl, a piece of blue cloth on a broken chair and a confession. A red CASE CLOSED stamp is superimposed on Goldilocks from behind bars where she is promised three meals a day and lots of rest...it is perfect punishment to fit the crime.

Other stories involve Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty, Snow White and Jack and the Beanstalk. Each investigation results in a closed case, and a lesson learned. They would make great scripts for readers' theatre, with no props needed and use of voice being the way to present each tale. Kids will surely love them, and the performances will assure raves from audience members. They also offer inspiration for students to try their own writing in a new and offbeat way.

 John Nickle does a commendable job of matching Levinthal's sinister and serious mood with richly detailed acrylic illustrations. My eyes were constantly wandering over each strong image, and back to assure myself that I had missed nothing. They match the film noire tone of the writing, while the cast of characters is just quirky enough to give a reader pause.

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