My snake Blake

Randy Siegel

Book - 2012

The extremely long, bright green snake a boy receives from his father as an early birthday present proves to be incredibly smart and talented.

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Picture books
New York : Roaring Brook Press 2012.
1st ed
Item Description
"A Neal Porter Book."
Physical Description
unpaged : ill
Main Author
Randy Siegel (-)
Review by New York Times Review

THE field of children's literature blooms annually with books about bunnies, bears and the like. Yet children sometimes prefer to dote on creatures they very well know will give parents the creeps, and conspiratorial children's authors are happy to indulge this urge. However, the siren call of cuteness always remains, and some of this year's crop of uncuddly-animal books play it one way, some the other. Apart from its title, "My Snake Blake" isn't creepy at all. Blake the snake is a little boy's perfect friend right out of the birthday-present box. He calms the boy's alarmed mother, spelling out reassuring cursive words with his body, and shows himself to be of invaluable service: Blake knows all the boy's homework answers; helps with batting practice; and even walks the dog, serving as both walker and leash. It's a very boy-centric story; snake-loving girls - seeing the contrast between reluctant mother and eager father, son and male snake - might wish for a snake book of their own. The illustrator, Serge Bloch, has taken Randy Siegel's silly, slim text and served it up as a dish straight out of 1960. (The text itself seems to have been inspired by Tomi Ungerer's 1958 snake book, "Crictor") He draws in the loose, bamboo-pen scribble that thrived in those days. Channeling artists like Saul Steinberg, Robert C. Osborn and Jules Feiffer, he gets the wry, relaxed humor just right His boy is adorable, as is his snake. Not only the drawing here is '60s style, but also the printing. There was, in the history of illustration, a thing called color pre-separation, in which artists drew a separate version of every drawing for each color of ink to be printed. Taking a colored original and photographically splitting it into the three primary colors and black was an expensive prospect for children's publishers. This splitting was therefore done manually, by the illustrator, and usually into fewer than four colors, which meant less labor for the artist and a lower cost for printing. Fewer colors made for a limited palette, but the hues could be cleaner and purer, or so illustrators consoled themselves. Once scanners made full-color printing less expensive, pre-separation disappeared. However, "My Snake Blake" is a three-color job, printed in red, green and black ink on uncoated stock, just as in the old days; though if you know what you're looking at, you can tell the pre-separated colors were prepared on a computer. Also in a '60s vein, David Covell's "Rat and Roach, Friends to the End" swings to the subversive side of the scale. Its tone is set early on with a graphic display of rat flatulence surely unprecedented in picture book history. But things get tamer; at base, this story of troubled amity between vermin is a conventional Felix-and-Oscar conflict between clean Roach and slovenly Rat. And once their friendship is threatened, both friends work to make it better. Covell's engaging text addresses the reader directly, wondering openly what will happen next; and it works in able counterpoint to the bold, simple illustrations. The humor ranges from silly, gross food jokes for kids to a gag for graphic designers. The book is hipsterish (the story takes place under Avenue A), and hence the art is '60s in style. Retro though they are, the flat, strong shapes and funny-looking scribbles must seem as new to children as they did to everyone back when Modern was new. Covell, who is likewise new to illustrating children's books, draws his Rat and Roach halfway between adorable and creepy, in brushy computer ink. They have their signature colors: pink for Roach (slippers, air freshener, haute cuisine) and chartreuse for Rat (sewer water, slobbery saliva), which together with gray and brown make up the book's color scheme. The colors are few because Covell's style also imitates the limited palette of pre-separated art. His pictures are simple but not sweet; to me, in fact, they're aesthetically disturbing. I like "Rat and Roach, Friends to the End" exactly because I find it unusually ugly - and wonderfully appropriately so. "Squid and Octopus, Friends for Always" is far prettier, yet again prepared with a very limited but lovely palette; this time because the art is silk-screened. Tao Nyeu's style isn't remotely hip or hipster. Gentle and childlike, it recalls folk art (also a '60s thing, of course) and decorative traditions from both Asia and the West. Where Nyeu's imagery is big and bold, the rewards are great: a magnificent whale spreads its glorious indigo across two orange pages. A submarine, with a die-cut flap you can lift to see the goingson inside, is delightfully clever and fun. Other pages, filled with complicated incidental activity, feel too scattered and wrong, however, for its four simple, and young-feeling stories. Three of these will be engaging for the very young; one, "The Hat" is amusing and substantive enough to satisfy both child and parent. Here Octopus assumes that a boot drifted down from above is a hat. He wears it proudly until his friends convince him that it is a flowerpot then a soup bowl, then a doorstop. "The Hat" is a story about doubting yourself, whose absurd ending (Squid has found the other boot and is wearing it as a hat) feels exactly right. Nyeu's first two picture books, which featured both bears and bunnies, garnered significant awards. Though she has dipped her toe in the anti-cuddlies with mixed results, she is nonetheless an artist to keep an eye on. I'm sure Randy Siegel's next book will be at least as much of a snake charmer as this one. And I'm a little afraid of what might be forthcoming from David Covell - but it should be interesting. Paul O. Zelinsky is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including the Caldecott medal winner "Rapunzel" Most recently, he illustrated "Z Is for Moose," by Kelly Bingham.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 15, 2012] Review by Booklist Review

A pet snake! All right! Mom may be a little nervous about it, but Dad is pretty darn proud of himself. and their little boy is just about apoplectic. After they release the super-long, bright green snake, it reveals a curious ability, looping its body into a cursive word: hello. ( I paid extra for that, Dad says.) Further questions elicit more snake-cursive answers: his name is Blake and everyone should just relax. There's not much plot from there, just the boy basking in the awesomeness of a pet that can cook, open doors, turn on the TV, walk the dog, and most importantly, help with even the most difficult of homework questions ( What is the capital of Kenya? ). Siegel ever-so-slyly turns this pleasant diversion into a helpful aid for kids new to reading cursive, while Bloch makes the most of the unusual horizontal trim size (11? x 6?) to stretch out his charming, minimalist, sketchbook scratchings daubed with splashes of green and pink. And if you're worried this won't include a Snakes on a Plane reference, don't be.--Kraus, Daniel Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In a loving salute to the unconventional pet heroes of an earlier era (think Lyle the crocodile or Crictor the boa constrictor), Siegel (Grandma's Smile) and Bloch (The Enemy) tell the story of a "super-long, bright green snake" who wows the young narrator by helping him with his homework, eating rejected Brussels sprouts, and fighting bullies. "He's a perfectly polite, delightful snake," the boy says. When the family's father brings Blake home, the snake uses his long, supple body to spell words in graceful cursive, calming the narrator's anxious mother- " 'Relax,' he scribbled. 'Really?' said Mom. 'Really,' he answered." The father swells with pride: "I paid extra for that," he says about Blake's writing ability. Bloch's cartoons, with their loopy lines, sparing use of green and red, and exaggerated facial expressions, show Blake engaged in a series of charmingly unsnakelike activities: he cooks, finds lost keys, and enjoys cuddling on park benches. The narrator's saucy voice and a couple of adult-aimed jokes make rereadings a treat; parents may find themselves arguing about a trip to the pet store. Ages 3-6. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by School Library Journal Review

K-Gr 2-A boy's early birthday present from his father is a bright green snake that communicates by twisting his long sinuous body into single words. Blake cooks like a chef, catches flies, and walks the dog. As their friendship develops, he helps the boy with homework by answering difficult questions involving Kenya, the poet William Blake, and the Oakland Raiders quarterback in the 1977 Super Bowl (Kenny "The Snake" Stabler). Though he would never bite anyone, Blake does frighten a mean kid at school and most of the passengers aboard a plane when the family goes on vacation. The boy feels lucky to have him, "the best snake, by far, in the whole world." The long, narrow shape of the book is appropriately snakelike, and the black line drawings are mostly colored with red and green against white backgrounds. The charming cartoon illustrations are rich in body language and facial expressions. They lightly suggest an urban setting, perhaps New York City. This story is reminiscent of Tomi Ungerer"s Crictor (Harper, 1958), sharing a similar artistic style and the same wry humor. A fun selection for storytime.-Mary Jean Smith, formerly at Southside Elementary School, Lebanon, TN (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Horn Book Review

The narrator's father gives him a pet snake as a gift, but it's not just any snake. It spells words with its body, including this droll bit of advice for the narrator's mom: "relax." The book's second half--a laundry list of the snake's virtues--fizzles. More successful is the spot-colored black-and-white art, which favorably recalls Jules Feiffer's work. (c) Copyright 2012. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Blake the snake just might be the most spectacular pet of all time. Dad brings home a very long, bright-green snake to the delight of his son and the dubious reluctance of Mom. But this snake quickly proves to be highly unusual and extremely talented. He twists his body to form the letters of his name in beautifully realized cursive writing, adding reassuring words to calm Mom's fears. Blake goes on to become a valued member of the family. Some of his talents are definitely snake-appropriate, like catching flies and licking dishes clean. But he also cooks, finds lost items, helps with homework, walks the dog, and offers protection against bullies. Although there are some situations that are a little dicey, as when his simple presence scares other passengers on an airline, all in all Blake is a "perfectly polite, delightful snake." Siegel's unnamed boy narrates the tale joyfully and enthusiastically, making Blake's oddities completely believable. The language is breezy and quirky with lots of goofy dialogue and some hilarious and very apropos homework questions and answers. Bloch's deceptively simple black-line cartoons are placed on long, narrow pages with lots of white space with bright greens and pinks bleeding beyond the lines. They evoke a mid-20th-century visual sensibility that honors Crictor, that other famous pet green snake, while perfectly complementing the text. Clever, laugh-out-loud fun. (Picture book. 3-8)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.