by Sam Juliano
There is a prompt disclaimer on the dust jacket cover of the delightfully irreverent Snappsy the Alligator, spoken by the title character via a voice bubble to a rooster, duck and rabbit, that it was not his decision to be included in the book. The exasperated reptile also responds to the statements made by the book’s creators on the inside flap. The first one warns readers: I’d be careful around Snappsy the alligator if I were you. Snappsy challenges the disingenuous censure by asking “What?” and “Why?” He also denies hunting tiny birds and fuzzy bunnies, possessing a hankering for foods that start with the letter “P” and accuses him of being a “shoddy craftsman” in his home. While we are clued in on the narrator-main character incompatibility, it is up to author Julie Falatko and illustrator Tim Miller to allow the phrase “the proof is in the pudding” to play itself out. One is tempted to suggest that if Chuck Jones was in the business of writing picture books, Snappsy the Alligator would be just the project he’d conjure up.
For those readers who like to strip off the dust jacket before commencing, there is another burst of humor on the inside cover. Snappsy is in bed reading a copy of Falatko and Miller’s book, which comes wildly recommended from the literature’s most celebrated figure. A picture of Snappsy holding an ice cream cone topped with a dozen scoops, a night table floor shelf with some of the great classics and his pair of bunny slippers bring this maligned gator into more acute focus. Miller’s first set of end papers are replicated by the end set with two noted exceptions. Snappsy’s domestic responsibilities, physical activities and artistic preferences are on display in a series of charming vignettes. After a title page that repeats the dust jacket rejection Snappsy is described as dragging himself. Even his jaw won’t snap says the book’s narrator. Snappsy laments this deplorable misrepresentation, declaring he is famished and he heads off in search for food. He passes a pond with a “No Gators” sign and rents a scooter from a Porky the Pig-like character that allows him to ascend the steepest of hills on a scooter. After the narrator asserts “He shimmied through the forest” Snappsy derides him as an awful moderator who only describes what he sees in the illustrators.
The narrator continues to be relentless in framing Snappsy as a threat to “tiny, defenseless birds and soft fuzzy bunnies” in one of Miller’s funniest paintings. Birds whiz by him while bunnies exhibit a sturdy measure of group fearfulness. The narrator deceitfully describes his subsequent venturing as “prowling through the forest, looking for victims” as Snappsy reaches a clearing where a grocery store stands. An especially clever touch is to have a young girl sitting in a car eyeing Snappsy’s arrival, while reading all about him in a book. The narrator won’t let up as he describes his punching bag’s aisle activity as an excuse to hungrily look at other shoppers, who are clearly terrified. After the narrator announces that Snappsy only likes foods with the letter P -get it, S-n-a-p-p- the alligator confidently responds that he also buys cheddar and apples, but he holds a list coincidentally top heavy with P foods. The narrator reiterates all of the alligator’s faults, and even refers to his home as a “lopsided shack,” which Snappsy considers an insult. He puts the “No Narrators Allowed” sign on the knob and slams the door shut. Eating a peanut butter sandwich and reading a book finally frustrates the long unfazed narrator who tells him the story is boring and he must leave the house.
Snappsy resolves to throw a party for friends to improve his standing. He vacuums the rug and fills a bunch of garbage bags. Then the newfound ideal host tells the narrator to buzz off, as his day was needlessly complicated and not in a good way. Miller’s enlarged drawing of Snappsy issuing an order by way of the largest voice bubble in the book is a delight for the young ones who have been rooting throughout the story for him to really take charge. Miller’s style in this canvas bears some similarity to Greg Pizzoli’s work, but in the best possible sense.
The clever comic style illustrations are wildly popular in a classroom, and they invite a close scrutiny of the details, clues, and wonderful brush and ink soft color, dominated by green and violet. As much of the color application is in direct contrast to what objects and backgrounds would actually be, even at a stretch, it is clear that Miller doesn’t want to misrepresent the subversive elements. The party tapestries represent the supreme payoff, providing a phantasmagorical design. Balloons are afloat, the guests are enjoying drinks and the food table, rabbit is crunching a carrot, streamers and a globe hang from above, the female rhinoceros wears a “Party girl” top and peaking through the window is the mysterious rooster, who is of course exposed on the following page as the literary perpetrator of this slander. But he does bring in a platter of finger sandwiches, and acknowledges that Snappsy is a gifted host, even while forwarding the usual dig about his “his sharp teeth still glowing menacingly.” When this festive ringmaster offers up a bowl of pudding, the ever cognizant pullet exclaims “Aha” as he catches Snappsy with another “P” word foodstuff, as Party girl licks her lips.
But was this entire book a premeditated ruse to get Snappsy to throw parties every week? The possibility is raised by the banty narrator in one of Miller’s most captivating spreads, one where the pudding aficionados engage in a rollicking round of chicken dancing. Snappsy is none too thrilled with the prospects of an encore when addressing his erstwhile nemesis in a marvelous minimalist confrontation. But like a superhero movie that yields more scenes after the credits, the story isn’t quite over. Snappsy is shown on the end papers as an artist painting a likeness of the narrator, and then he is checkmated during a chess game, a sure sign he will always be at the mercy of this omnipresent rooster. Heck, the back cover, with its boastful notes, a suave photo of this fowl of letters with a pipe and the title of the book tell it all. Snappsy the Alligator is one of the year’s most creative picture book endeavors. Tim Miller’s art is sublime and spirited. That it should be under the Caldecott magnifying lens should be a given.
Note: This is the twenty-sixth entry in the ongoing 2016 Caldecott Medal Contender series. The series does not purport to predict what the committee will choose, rather it attempts to gauge what the writer feels should be in the running. In most instances the books that are featured in the series have been touted as contenders in various online round-ups, but for the ones that are not, the inclusions are a humble plea to the committee for consideration. It is anticipated the series will include at least 30 titles; the order which they are being presented in is arbitrary, as every book in this series is a contender. Some of my top favorites of the lot will be done near the end. The awards will be announced on January 22nd, hence the reviews will continue till two days before that date.