Masquerade: Armchair treasure hunt

front dust jacket of Masquerade by Kit Williams mixes vintage English country scene with fantastic imaginary tree covered with flowers.
Cover illustration by the author

Masquerade, a fantasy by author-illustrator Kit Williams, has talking animals, squeaky-clean peasants, and a treasure for the first reader able to solve its mystery.

Moon having fallen in love with the Sun, makes him a necklace as a token of her affection and sends Jack Hare to deliver it.

After adventures through earth, air, fire and water—and a series of riddles—Jack reaches the Sun only to realize the necklace is missing.

Readers are asked to figure out from the text and pictures where Jack lost the necklace.

According to the dust jacket, Williams made an 18-carat gold jewel and buried it in Britain in a ceramic container inscribed:

“I am the Keeper of the Jewel of
which lies waiting safe inside me
for you or Eternity.”

Although Masquerade looks like a children’s book and is classified as juvenile fiction in libraries, it isn’t appropriate for children and there’s not enough story for adults.

Masquerade‘s attraction is clearly the gold jewel.

18-carat gold jewel made by Kit Williams
The prize for the lucky winner

The picture book and buried jewel inspired a genre known as armchair treasure hunts.

For novel readers, story of the scandal around the first person to claim the treasure is more entertaining than Masquerade.

Masquerade by Kit Williams
Schocken Books, 1st American ed. 1980, ©1979.
1981 bestseller #5. My grade: C-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Jonathan Livingston Seagull, feathered allegory

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is an Allegory.  Just so you don’t miss the point, author Richard Bach thoughtfully capitalizes Important Words.

A grainy photograph of a seagull is on the dust jacket cover of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Russell Munson’s photos accompany Bach’s narrative.

Jonathan is No Ordinary Bird. Although no gulls are killed when he dives at 214 miles an hour into the breakfasting flock, Jonathan is expelled from the flock for for “reckless irresponsibility.”

In exile, he practices flying, neglecting to eat, until he is called to a better place where he meets other gulls who also live to fly.

After spending some time in the better place in the sky, Jonathan returns to earth and gathers disciples whom he teaches to consider themselves “special and gifted and divine.”

Some of Jonathan’s disciples consider him the Son of the Great Gull but he’s not. He merely wants his followers to “reach out and touch perfection” in the thing they most love to do.

Jonathan leaves them after instructing them to Go Make Disciples who will devote their lives to doing whatever they want to do.

Fortunately, this paean to the totally self-centered life is short.

Its 93 pages are already as nauseating as a gull’s breakfast.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Photographs by Russell Munson
Macmillan, © 1970. 93 p.
Bestseller #1 in 1972 and 1973. My grade: C-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Eloise is a brat

Kay Thompson’s Eloise is a picture book.

The pictures by Hilary Knight are charming. Eloise is not.

Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups by Kay Thompson

Hilary Knight, illus.. Simon & Schuster, 1956. 1956 bestseller #5. My grade: C-.

Eloise writes her name in lipstick on a mirror Eloise is 6.

She lives at The Plaza Hotel where the manager says she is a nuisance.

That is an understatement.

What this scraggy-haired hellion in Mary Janes doesn’t get into is not to be found at the Plaza Hotel.

She visits the Persian Room, the Boiler Room, and the Men’s Room.

She “helps” the maid and the switchboard operators, the busboys and waiters.

She’s rude, insolent, and spoiled rotten.

At 20, Eloise will look like the bored, rich girls of Valley of the Dolls.

She’s already got a good start.

Eloise’s favorite phrases are “Oh my Lord” and “Charge it, please.”

Her mother leaves Eloise with a nanny while she’s off to Europe or on a jaunt to Virginia with her lawyer.

If Eloise has a father, he doesn’t come into the story.

Eloise dislikes school, so her mother has her tutored at home.

Eloise’s mother “knows everyone” from Coco Chanel to the Dean of Andover.

Let’s hope she also knows a good bailbondsman.

In a few years, Eloise will need one.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni


Eloise at Christmastime Gives Holiday Depression

Eloise at Christmastime is another in Kay Thompson’s highly successful books “for precocious adults” illustrated by Hilary Knight.

There’s no real plot here. Eloise at Christmastime is more merchandise than storybook: the literary equivalent of Disney-character drinking glasses sold for 99¢ with a McDonald’s cheeseburger. It it weren’t for Knight’s drawings, there would be no book.

Thompson captures the self-absorption of a six-year-old to perfection, letting Eloise narrate her own story. Talking about herself is what Eloise does best.

Her usual brattiness accentuated by holiday excitement, Eloise runs wild through the Plaza Hotel where she lives on the top floor with Nanny. Poor Nanny does her best to provide some structure and stability for Eloise, but her orthopedic oxfords can’t keep up with Eloise’s Mary Janes.

Mother, as usual, is off traveling. She sends Eloise a cartwheel hat and calls her long distance from the Mediterranean on Christmas Eve.

I didn’t find previous Eloise books amusing, but this one struck me as downright depressing. There’s something about see a six-year-old exchanging gifts with a dog and a turtle while Mother works on her tan in the Mediterranean that makes me want to howl.

Sadly, there are too many Eloises in the world today—and too few Nannies.

Eloise at Christmastime
by Kay Thompson
Drawings by Hilary Knight
Random House, 1958
1958 Bestseller #6
My Grade: D
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni