Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors

h1 August 21st, 2007 by jules

Aunt Nancy and
the Bothersome Visitors

by Phyllis Root
with illustrations by David Perkins
July 2007
(review copy)

There is a reason I get excited at the release of a new Phyllis Root title. She is a master storyteller (and wrote the best creation myth this side of Genesis in Big Momma Makes the World). And it’s not as if she needed to prove to me her superb story-spinning skills any more with this new title from Candlewick, consisting of four boisterous trickster tales (two published previously and individually in 1996 — and two written in ’07), but you better believe that with this collection of stories, she shows that — somehow — she gets better and better with each book. I don’t know how this is possible, since she’s been a supreme storyteller since practically Day One.

Aunt Nancy is a crackerjack if ever there was one. She’s clever and quick (“{l}ucky for Aunt Nancy her head wasn’t up on her shoulders just to keep her ears from fighting with each other”) and knows how to take care of herself. And we know this, because she manages to outwit four pesky, unwanted visitors at her door, each one spotlighted in four entertaining tales: Old Man Trouble, Cousin Lazybones, Old Woeful, and Mister Death.

“Aunt Nancy should of knowed Old Man Trouble was in the neighborhood. Hadn’t the spring out back gone and dried up this morning when she went to fill her water bucket? . . . Here was the sun barely poking up in the sky, and already bad luck was hopping around like rabbits at a family reunion. Aunt Nancy should of knowed Old Man Trouble was around, all right.” At the introduction to each story, we get a full-color painting from David Perkins of each nettlesome visitor, so we see Old Man Trouble right off the bat with his long black coat, tall black top hat, silver-headed walking stick, pointy white teeth and pointy black beard, and shiny black shoes — with his foot set firmly in the door — while Aunt Nancy stands in the door in her apron and farm dress. Perkins graces the rest of the stories with black-and-white silhouettes that manage to convey heaps of character with simple body gestures and eye movements. (And I must add that the full-color painting for Old Woeful is a hoot and a half, as Aunt Nancy might put it, what with the “long dark shadow stretching out in front of her” and the small, self-contained rain cloud that hangs over her head and follows her where ever she goes. At one point, Perkins shows us in silhouette that “her cloud shudders and shoots out a little bolt of lightning” — to which I gave a loud, rowdy HA! Oh my, this is a funny book).

These are contemporary trickster tales (“{n}ever was nobody as tricksy as Aunt Nancy”), written in honor of Root’s female relatives, she writes on the book’s jacket flap: “Aunt Nancy is my grandmothers and aunts — women who never let the world get the better of them — all rolled into one . . .” So, of course, intrepid and old Aunt Nancy, who “had more brains than God gave a whole flock of geese,” manages to ward off the bad luck of Old Man Trouble. And the sluggishness of Cousin Lazybones (she “didn’t turn any cartwheels when Cousin Lazybones come to visit. She knowed he was so lazy even his shadow didn’t get up and follow him around”; she only had to invite him in, ’cause “{f}amily is family. But enough is enough”). And the moaning of Old Woeful, dumping all kinds of doom and gloom around her (“didn’t Aunt Nancy need all the brains she could get the day Old Woeful came down the road?”). And, finally, Mister Death. With . . .

his shirtfront all ruffly white and a big, bright watch chain across his middle. Aunt Nancy, she takes one look and knows she’s gonna need every trick she’s ever learned and a few she hasn’t to outsmart Mister Death.

Ezekiel the cat, he takes one look and all his hair stands on end, big as a chimney brush.

Now, exactly how Aunt Nancy outsmarts each of these demanding visitors is for you to find out, and children will get big laughs from Aunt Nancy’s clever ways. Suffice it to say that “{n}obody ever got the best of Aunt Nancy, and nobody ever will.” I wouldn’t want to spoil the joy that will unfold for you in each story by revealing the trick in her trickster. Better yet, read ’em aloud. Root absolutely nails — and without being too cutesy or kitschy or forced about it — the language of such oldfangled tales (which are “the embodiment of the grit, gumption and glee of good old-fashioned folktales,” as Kirkus Reviews put it in their review) — with the “doggone it”s here and “lickety-split”s there. Oh, and throw in some bimbleberries for good measure. And some muckitis (“{n}o use messing with mucking,” warns Old Woeful, all doleful-like. “Sure as shooting, you’ll catch your death of muckitis. Horrible way to go”). Another rowdy HA from me again! Make it a HOO HA!

{And how Aunt Nancy gets Old Woeful to say, “Aunt Nancy, you are about the gloomiest person I ever laid eyes on . . . I got to be getting along before you give me a serious case of the dismals” is . . . well, part of Aunt Nancy’s genius and charm}.

And the exuberance of the tales is infectious. This is the kind of book you want to pick right back up and read again right after finishing it. Root also wrote on the book’s jacket flap, “I liked Aunt Nancy so much that after the first story, I went on to write three more about her. I’m so pleased to see them all together in one book.”

The pleasure is all ours.

6 comments to “Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors

  1. Loved the cover art, loved the review and snippets. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Aunt Nancy!

  2. (”{l}ucky for Aunt Nancy her head wasn’t up on her shoulders just to keep her ears from fighting with each other”) Hee, hee. I’ll have to remember that one.

    I wonder if you can talk Phyllis Root into coming to the storytelling festival in Jonesboro, Tennessee?

  3. Those festivals ROCK, Sara!

    She will be interviewed in the near future by a certain blog with the number seven in it. WOO HOO! Dream come true!

    I think if I had to pick my favorite. picture. book. ever (is that even possible?), Big Momma Makes the World really might be it. Root is just brilliant.

  4. Ooh, awesome. I loved Old Man Trouble, but I haven’t seen this collection. Yay!

  5. I’m a big fan of big momma, too. And I love a good trickster, so I can’t wait to check this out. Thanks…

  6. Ditto on Big Momma Makes the World. I love that book. I’m putting this one on hold….

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