As Dr. Seuss knew, children's stories, however fantastical, still work by a kind of logic: if a monster has two heads, he'll naturally need two toothbrushes. Mordecai Richler's Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang succeeds by just such a rationale. Preceded by two older brothers and two older sisters, Jacob is certain no one ever listens to him and so develops the habit of saying everything twice.
Jacob's trademark repetitiveness lands him afoul of a "grown-up" on his very first errand to the greengrocer's. Jacob's insistence on "two pounds of firm, red tomatoes, two pounds of firm, red tomatoes," is considered mocking and he soon finds himself ushered into the fantastical children's court of Mr. Justice Rough. Sentenced to hard time in the foggy, wolverine- and snake-infested Slimer's Island, Jacob falls under the menacing eye of the dreaded warden, the Hooded Fang. Jacob and his fellow scabby-kneed inmates slave out their sentences on a work gang by manufacturing "Rain for picnics," "Weeds to ruin swimming holes," and "Major news stories concocted to break only when they could replace favourite television programs." Working secretly within the shroud of fog, Jacob plots his escape with the help of a heroic ring of older children known as Child Power.
Richler's Jacob, like his countryman Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, began as a tale for his own five children, and each wild setting, giggly joke, and action-heavy chapter feels battle-tested on children's ears. Richler the novelist pays attention to plot and child-friendly logic, avoiding the stew approach to children's literature in which condescending authors throw together what they consider to be the ingredients of a children's story without any sense of sequence, suspense, or outcome. Fritz Wegner's periodic illustrations extend Richler's playful work with monstrous prison guards, nefarious villains, and a swashbuckling rescue. --Darryl Whetter [via]