Absurdity abounds in Kulka’s tale of a clever boy who knows that telling the truth—just not the whole truth—can be pretty entertaining. Ernest is excited for the school pet show, but when he tries to board the bus with his enormous pet crocodile, Gustave, heads turn and apprehension rises. “My crocodile does not bite! He’s very well trained,” Ernest assures everyone. After Ernest finally arrives at school—via Gustave, not via bus—the boy puts his pet through his paces and upstages the other students and their animals (at one point, Gustave juggles tennis balls while riding a unicycle and playing the harmonica), much to the chagrin of persnickety Cindy Lou and her puff of a puppy, Fifi. Although the characters’ poses often come across as wooden, Kulka (Wolf’s Coming) creates a quintessentially grumpy foil in sour-faced Cindy Lou, who’s decked out in pigtails and a pink dress that matches the color of her poodle. While Kulka doesn’t do much to create a sense of tension as the story progresses, the wicked twist of an ending should catch most readers by surprise. Ages 5–9. (Mar.)
- Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
"My crocodile does not bite," insists Ernest, as apprehensive students gather at the bus stoop with their pets for the annual pet show. And so he repeats, as the bus driver will not let him on the bus, and later, as he shows off Gustave's many tricks to the other kids. Cindy Lou, sure her poodle Fifi will win the show, just glowers. But when Fifi chases a ball down Gustave's throat and Cindy Lou crawls after her, Ernest changes his tune, to the shock and delight of all. Double scenes are needed to provide enough space for Gustave to demonstrate his tricks. Even as he smiles and looks peaceful, we see Cindy Lou scowling and mean. The few other naturalistic characters represent an appreciative audience. Gustave, painted in domineering shades of green, is clearly the star of the humorous tale. His personality stimulates comic response, with no concern for Cindy Lou or Fifi. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Cindy Lou and her miniature poodle Fifi become just desserts at the school pet show. Kulka introduces readers to Ernest as Ernest is introducing his pet crocodile, Gustave, to his friends while they get ready for the school pet show. Cindy Lou, a sniffy brat, says that Gustave should be banned. "What a stupid pet….He'll bite everybody!" His crocodile doesn't bite, says Ernest. He is well-behaved and does tricks, like juggle and ride a unicycle. But Cindy Lou keeps up her barrage of insults--and dastardly deeds like tripping Gustave--her face screwed into a rictus of disdain. She is such a nasty, sneering piece of work that it comes as a pleasure when she accidentally bounces a ball into Gustave's maw. Cindy Lou and Fifi enter in pursuit, and well, it turns out that Gustave may not bite, but he has a great capacity to swallow. Au revoir, Cindy Lou, ma chère. Kulka softens the story at the very end, though it still packs a surprising punch. There is a pillowy softness to Gustave, though the rest of the characters have a crisp gaiety, all but you-know-who--Kulka draws Cindy Lou very broadly; still, into every life a Cindy Lou will fall. An amusing twist that will make readers wonder about the meaning of a really well-trained crocodile. (Picture book. 5-9)
Joe Kulka is an award-winning author and illustrator. His other books include Wolf's Coming! and Vacation's Over!: Return of the Dinosaurs (both for Carolrhoda Books). Joe Kulka is an award-winning author and illustrator. His other books include Wolf's Coming! and Vacation's Over!: Return of the Dinosaurs (both for Carolrhoda Books).