Arthur Yorinks' Hey, Al
illustrated by Richard Egielski
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
A book about appreciating what you have
Not to toot my own horn, but I often visit a friend's 5th grade class and work with them on their creative writing.
One visit, the assignment was to write a fictional story about someone they knew, and to make sure it included a life lesson. Two class comedians came up with the following:
The school janitor lives with his talking dog who complains all the time about their dumpy apartment. One day a huge bird sticks his head in the window and offers to take them to live in a wonderful new place. The janitor isn't sure, but the dog is all over it. So the bird picks them up in his claws and flies, then dumps them on this island. It's a beautiful island filled with beautiful birds, and the man and his dog live like kings with all their needs taken care of. But then one day they notice they're turning into birds. So they escape by flying, but the dog falls into the ocean and drowns. The man is heartbroken, but then it turns out the dog didn't drown, so they live happily ever after and appreciate their dumpy apartment. The end.
I lied. Yes, I volunteer in my friend's classroom, but no, the students didn't write that. Arthur Yorinks did, with his friend Richard Egielski illustrating. And Egielski won the 1987 Caldecott Medal for his effort.
Underwhelmed? Me too. Did you believe me about the fifth graders coming up with that story? I rest my case.
Yes, the illustrations are well done. Yes, there's a simple-minded absurdity to the story that will appeal to readers of a certain age. Yes, there's an ostensible lesson, stated outright:
Paradise lost is sometimes Heaven found.
In other words, appreciate what you have. Is that worth the price of admission for Hey, Al? I didn't think so. You might.
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