A cricket and crab recount an adventure to a group of youngsters in Mattie Simpson’s rousing picture book Cornelius & Jake Run For Home.
The story begins with a pensive crab, King Cornelius, and his longtime friend, Jake the Cricket, watching a winter storm. “Remember a wild night like this a long time ago, Jake?” the crab asks his friend. “Danger and fear were on the wind that night, too.” Soon, Crustina, the king’s great-granddaughter, requests to hear the story of that night — the first time King Cornelius and Jake the Cricket met — and the two friends oblige.
In that tale, Jake is wrapped up in fishing line when he encounters a huge, hungry dump rat. Cornelius helps Jake escape the rat, and the two make the treacherous journey back to Cornelius’s castle, dodging lightning, fierce winds and an “army of savage rats.”
At book’s end, Crustina clamors for more, and Cornelius promises to tell another story on “some other stormy night.”
Simpson’s use of mood is excellent from the beginning. We already know the characters survive, as they’re telling the story, but that does nothing to spoil the excitement. A large part of the credit for that belongs to illustrator Hilbert Bermejo, whose drawings of Jake and the rats are fluid and dynamic (though occasionally repetitious).
Minor errors are scattered among the pages: “lightning” misspelled as “lightening,” or a missing apostrophe, for example. And Simpson challenges her readers with vocabulary that might stretch their boundaries: “Impaled,” “regal,” “dainty,” and “rheumy” appear in just the first two pages alone. But children whose parents don’t mind stopping the story for a brief explanation or trip to the dictionary now and then will find this a good way to encounter new words.
In general, Simpson’s writing is strong and engaging, and Cornelius & Jake Run For Home will have children eagerly anticipating King Cornelius’s next “stormy night” to hear more.
Also available as an ebook.