By Jon Agee
Jon Agee, perhaps needs no introduction, especially for those with a keen interest in word play and picture books. His latest book, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau, was originally published in 1988 but is making a comeback for a new generation of reader. Read on for a fantastic piece from Jon!
When my sister and I were very young, and my mother didn’t have a picture book on hand to read to us, she’d make up a story featuring a character named Nunu. Nunu, like Peter Pan, was a plucky little kid who could fly. He would take us on an adventure, which usually involved magic, especially if my mother’s story hit a snag. Nunu would simply snap his fingers or say some funny-sounding words, and whisk us away into the sky to a completely new setting. It was a magic of expedience, always employed for good – and to keep the story going.
In the books my mother read to us, the magic was more sinister. One of my favorites was an early Dr. Seuss, where a delusional king, bored with the yearly weather patterns, hires a group of witches to create something new. They call it Oobleck, and when it falls from the sky, it’s an absolute climate disaster: gooey, gloppy and it sticks to everything. The lesson was clear: don’t mess with Mother Nature, and anything called Oobleck cannot possibly be good.
Another favorite, by William Steig, featured a curious young donkey, named Sylvester, who discovers a magic pebble, which gives him supernatural power. This power is briefly thrilling, before everything goes horribly wrong. In fact, for almost the entire book, we see Sylvester, transformed into a large, lonely rock, as his heartbroken parents, and all their friends, search high and low for him. It’s a touching story, which proves you must be very careful with the magic power you wield in your hand – or hoof.
In my own books, plenty of magical things occur, but they’re often explained, logically. In Milo’s Hat Trick, an enormous bear jumps into a hat because, he says: “you just pretend your bones are made of rubber.” In My Rhinoceros, a rhinoceros can fly because, well, it’s a very agile rhinoceros.
The one book that might be an exception is The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau. It’s the story of a painter – Felix – who enters a picture of a duck into an art contest. When the duck quacks, Felix is awarded the top prize. Soon, it’s discovered that his paintings – of waterfalls, volcanoes, and dangerous snakes – not only look and sound real, they come to life! Is this magic? No. It’s simply great artistic talent.
But there is a mystery at play in this book. When we first see Felix, he is walking down a narrow alley. At the end of the book, the very same picture appears, as he walks back up the alley, only now, the image is seen within an ornate picture frame. The alley scene, lo and behold, is a painting, and Felix has walked into it. This begs the question (and many children ask it, when I finish the story): “So, who painted the picture of Felix?” The truth is, I don’t have a logical explanation. Maybe it’s magic after all.