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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nelly May Has Her Say, written by Cynthia DeFelice and illustrated by Henry Cole. Margaret Ferguson Books, Farrar Straus Giroux. Raincoast Books, 2013. $18.99 ages 5 and up

"And what is this creature that has been following us around?"
"That's nothing but a mangy old hound dog."
"Certainly not! He is my fur-faced fluffenbarker."
Nelly May sighed. "Your fur-faced Fluffenbarker. Why didn't I guess that?" "Oh, and this thing on the end of the fur-faced fluffenbarker, that goes back and forth..."

I had never heard of the English folktale Master of All Masters. But, I do know it now! In this retelling, Nelly May is in need of a job. She finds one with a wealthy, if eccentric, older man. In accepting the position she must agree to use the language set out for her by her employer. We soon find that Lord Ignasius Pinkwinkle has a particular penchant for elaborate, and often nonsensical, descriptive language:

"It's your bed, which I expect I'll be making up for you."
"Not at all," said Lord Pinkwinkle. "That is not a bed. It is my restful slumberific."
"Your restful slumberific?" asked Nelly May doubtfully. "I never heard of such as that."
"Well, now you have," said Lord Pinkwinkle."

That is just the beginning for poor Nelly May!

As the tale progresses and the language becomes always more cumbersome, it is sure to draw laughter from listeners and some degree of difficulty for the reader. With each new demand for ridiculous language, Nelly May becomes more irreverent. Lord Pinkwinkle continues to ask for her version of the item being discussed and then discounts her description with one of his own:

"Well, most folks would call it a bucket, or maybe a pail," ventured Nelly May. "But there's no telling what you'll be calling it."
"I call it a wet scooperooty, and so must you."
"If I must," said Nelly May."

After all the introductions, Nelly May is finally encouraged to get to the work she was hired to do. Only when a fire threatens the Most Excellent of All Master's roof-topped castleorum does Nelly May take the high road...and quit!

Turns out that is just what is needed for Pinky to see the error of his ways.

Henry Cole's artwork is warm and engaging and adds to the overall appeal of this decidedly humorous tale. Readers will enjoy trying to get their tongues around the silly language concocted by Pinky, before he gets his comeuppance from a slight, but savvy young woman. 

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