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The Blunder of the Rogues

The Blunder of the Rogues

1999 Picture Books
Ages: 4 - 8 yrs.
Author: Tim Egan
Illustrator: Tim Egan
ISBN: 0-395-91007-2
Hardcover Price: $15.00
Tim Egan's The Blunder of the Rogues is that rarity among contemporary children's picture books: a work of substance and importance. Unlike the flaccid majority of works being published for young children today, it tackles no less a subject than criminality and the heedless route by which a quartet of unremarkable good guys find themselves, step by step, turning bad.

From the start, adult reader and child listener alike know that we're embarking on no ordinary sunny kiddy tale. To begin with, there is the puzzling title. What's a blunder? What does rogue mean? The answers to these two questions (certain to be asked) guarantee rapt attention to the suspenseful narrative that follows.

For children, who are constantly being exhorted by their elders to be good or else, a tale featuring lawless characters and illicit behavior is virtually irresistible. This is doubtless the first picture book in which the reader meets the story's protagonists in a police line-up. An unlikely foursome, they are a raccoon named Skunk (the narrator); a towering lummox of a gorilla, Mick; a rat called Sneaky and a walrus with an eyepatch, Jake. The four friends comprise an inept bowling team called The Rogues.

Like most criminals, the quartet "didn't start out as bad guys," but, discouraged by one bowling loss too many, they vent their frustration by kicking over twenty-three trash cans. Then, Skunk "had the worst idea of my life." He proposes, "Hey, I know. Let's become criminals. We're no good at anything else." How many children, inner city dwellers or frustrated middle-class offspring, have had similar feelings?

The friends start small, "doing all sorts of rotten things": i.e. stepping on flowers, ringing doorbells and running away, scaring pigeons. Again, what child has not done-or thought of doing-the same? It is not until the four buddies meet a bad-news goat named Vincent-"a big-time criminal"-that things escalate. Vincent convinces the group that "you've got what it takes to be real crooks." Through him, they encounter "a little old sheep lady" who masterminds a plot to "ROB THE THIRD STREET BANK!" Though dumbfounded and scared, the foursome reluctantly agree.

The naïve would-be bank robbers hand the teller an exquisitely polite note: "Please give us all your money and we'll leave quietly. Thank you and have a pleasant afternoon." The pals, of course, are quickly apprehended, but not before Vincent and the sheep lady escape with the loot.

The friends are sentenced to seven years in the federal penitentiary, rendered with appropriate dreariness by the illustrator. And what more eloquent testimony to the fact that crime doesn't pay can a listener receive than hearing Skunk's wistful observation from prison that "Seven years is a long time to do without trees and cake and laughter and birthday parties…"? Like all good cautionary tales, this one convinces us by dramatic example and not a word of preaching.

Egan's work pointedly avoids seducing the viewer/listener. The book's endpapers are a somber gray. The pictures, droll and accomplished large watercolors, are forthrightly realistic. The text is the same. And though the cast of characters is entirely animal, there is not effort to make them ingratiatingly cute or cuddly.

Even the outcome of Egan's remarkable, street-smart book avoids the sugary. The quartet of friends, with plenty of time to contemplate its stupid behavior, mends its ways and starts life anew on its release from jail. But all is not right with the world. Vincent and the sheep lady are still at large, as the WANTED posters on the book's last page attest.

The sad truth about The Blunder of the Rogues is that it is unlikely to reach the wide audience it deserves. Many adults are likely to be leery of and uncomfortable with the subject matter and the difficult questions it may raise. It is far easier to read aloud from safe and sanitized texts that end comfortingly with "And they lived happily ever after". But Egan has given us an important picture book. May it find its way into as many homes, classrooms and library story hours as possible. It is a book that can change children's lives.

Selma G. Lanes   ©1999 Parents' Choice

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