Review of New in Town

New in Town
by Kevin Cornell; illus. by the author
Primary    Farrar    40 pp.    g
8/21    978-0-374-30609-0    $18.99

Here’s a classic David vs. Goliath tale, with a twist — or possibly more than one. The town of Puddletrunk, a higglety-pigglety, near-vertical construction on a tiny circle of land, is separated from the mainland by a deep chasm. The wooden bridges that span the chasm collapse with disturbing regularity — destroyed, apparently, by termites. A large bridge troll with bright green skin who towers over the other ­residents — “the fabulous Mortimer Gulch!!!” gushes the effusive and clueless narrator—bilks the residents of their money and possessions to pay for succeeding new bridges. (They’re now on #272.) Then a newcomer, a diminutive clock repairman, arrives to rebuild the town’s crumbling clock tower; he seems curiously immune to the troll’s grift. And that grift is even greater than we first suspect, because it transpires that Mr. Gulch, not termites at all, is the ­culprit/bridge chewer. One night, he gnaws at the base of the (now fully repaired) clock tower — “Just as delicious as bridges!” enthuses the narrator — causing the tower to fall over. But when it does, it exactly spans the width of the chasm, becoming a strong, sturdy, covered bridge. The town rejoices, Mr. Gulch slinks off into the night…and the narrator still doesn’t get it. The book’s success lies in the sliminess of Mr. Gulch; the surprise outcome; the many clever details in the illustrations (including a blueprint that reveals what the repairman intended, all along); and the mismatch between the narration and the story being told in the illustrations. The palette’s lurid colors, the exaggerated figures, even the curlicue font all match and reinforce the over-the-top, funny, and many-times-pore-over-able story.

From the November/December 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is a contributing editor to The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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