Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sneaking Out: The Big Adventures of the Smalls by Helen Stephens

It was an especially special night. It was the night the Smalls hold a grand ball. Everyone was very busy getting ready.

But the only thing Paul and Sally Small were getting ready for... was bed.

Their splendid rococo mansion is spotless, their long banquet dining table is splendid with the finest china and sterling silver, and their parents are resplendent in tuxedo and ballgown, their servants nervously prepping the fancy food on shiny serving salvers for a polished presentation.

Banished to their nursery far upstairs, Paul and Sally are not sleepy. They just have to have a glimpse og these grand festivities. With Sally leading the way and Paul clutching his favorite teddy, Mr. Puddles, they tiptoe partway down the grand staircase for a peek. But as Paul hangs over the banister for a look at the glittering guests, Mr. Puddles slips from his grasp! Paul and Sally watch in horror as he lands on a huge serving plate upon which a waiter soon slaps a domed cover without seeing the hidden surprise underneath.

The kids have to retrieve Teddy right away, before he gets served up to the diners, or they are in BIG trouble.

So begins The Big Adventure of the Smalls (Aladdin, 2012) by Helen Stephens. Kids will cackle with glee as, with their tagalong pooch along for the fun, the Smalls hoodwink their parents and guests, concealing themselves beneath the banquet table, among the legs of the guests, until they get a chance to snatch Teddy from the server, swinging over the feast on a handy and helpfully ornate chandelier. Making use of drapes, convenient suits of armor, sliding panels, trapdoors to secret passageways, and a co-conspirator of a cook, they manage to avoid detection, or at least identification by their parents, and final]y return themselves and Mr. Puddles to their home base, just in time for the expected bed check.

"Phew!" said Sally. "We got him back...and nobody even saw!"

It's a classic chase tale, every kid's fantasy of spying on the grownups' shindig incognito. Stephens' ornate and stylish illustrative style evokes that of several classic illustrators--Bemelmans, Waber, Ardizone, for example--and extend this stylish text perfectly. Says Publishers Weekly, "Stephens's story casts that rare spell—the feeling of finding a lost childhood favorite."

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