Short of calling it “Cookie Jar,” Jan Andrews probably couldn’t have given her short story collection a more kid-tantalizing title. Parents and teachers bracing themselves for an onslaught of lowbrow potty humour can breathe easy, however. These are indeed rude stories, but they are rude stories of the highest order: wonderfully inventive, delightfully told, and charmingly illustrated.
The eight tales collected and retold here come from a variety of places and cultures, including Africa, Canada, Eastern Europe, and Australia. They are tailor-made for reading aloud, and Andrews does a masterful job of linking disparate yarns through the voice of a cranky, irreverent, and subversive narrator.
Part of Andrews’ gift is making young readers feel as though she’s in cahoots with them – the joke’s on everyone else. For better or worse, cleverness always wins the day here. “Mr. Mosquito” offers an early lesson in dirty politics through the story of a vain, manipulative, and yes, rude mosquito who schemes his way into becoming mayor. The twist here is that there is no twist. The mosquito drives out the legitimate mayor, even marries his fiancée, but never gets his comeuppance: “I wish I could tell you Mr. Mosquito got what he deserved at some point, but I’m afraid I have no proof of that. Truth to tell, he might be the mayor of the very place you’re living in.”
“Angelina Speaks Out” is a neo-feminist take on wedding planning gone awry. When just-married Angelina points out the selfish, short-sighted actions of the men around her, the result is a refreshingly practical attitude adjustment, not gendered humiliation. Elsewhere, “A Tale of Rude Tails,” adapted from a First Nations’ story, offers a memorable explanation for why dogs sniff each other’s behinds in greeting.
With their blatant disregard for cookie-cutter endings and utter lack of preachiness (“I’m not too keen on story morals,” declares the narrator), these stories will no doubt be the starting point for countless thought-provoking and entertaining discussions. Francis Blake’s lively illustrations just add to the sense of fun.