Hey, Al

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1987

Hey, Al

Arthur Yorinks, text

Richard Egielski, illustrations

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986

28 pp.

Age: 5+

Interests: birds, dogs, city life, travel, adventure, vacation, New York, magic, apartments

Other Titles by this author and illustrator: Homework, What a Trip!

Janitor Al and his best friend Eddie the dog live in a tiny apartment in New York City. They are always working and life isn’t easy. Eddie gripes about their apartment and they start to bicker. Then one day an enormous tropical bird sticks his head in the bathroom window while Al is shaving and offers to take them to a better place. Who could resist? The bird carries them to an island in the sky and life becomes a travel poster dream… until Al and Eddie discover they are turning into birds themselves. Fleeing paradise, Eddie falls into the ocean and Al barely makes it home. Happily Eddie is a good swimmer and soon rejoins his friend. The two are very glad to be back home:  “Paradise lost is sometimes heaven found.”

A wildly imaginative and slightly creepy tale about being careful what you wish for. The birds are fantastical, verging on monstrous, and add a mysterious chill to the story. The toucan’s insidious invitation to a better life echoes advertising shills as well as the little devil supposedly sitting on your shoulder and whispering in your ear.

It’s a refreshing take to personify Temptation as a beautiful toucan, and the other ‘bad guys’ as gorgeous birds who wait on you hand and foot. There’s no real obvious threat, as the birds do not try to stop them from leaving, or harm them in any way, but Al and Eddie’s horror at their own transformation is real. (It reminded me of Disney’s Pinocchio, when the boys turn into donkeys as repayment for living the high life…)

There is a worrisome page or two when it looks like Eddie has drowned in the ocean, and Al arrives home in despair, but Eddie soon reappears. The final illustration, in which Al is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and painting their drab little apartment bright yellow, suggests that they’ve learned how to appreciate each other and all the good things they’ve got. It’s all about balance, folks.

(I’m not sure whether my daughter has thought to apply this lesson to our recent immersion in Floridian Disneyana… probably not.)

A very unusual, vaguely unsettling story, but with a satisfying ending. Thoroughly modern and yet with echoes of much older cautionary tales and myths.

(This title at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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