Duckworth the Difficult Child by Michael Sussman, illustrated by Júlia Sardà

Duckworth the Difficult Child 
by Michael Sussman
illustrated by Júlia Sardà
Review Copy from 

Duckworth's parents just happen to be reading a book called Dealing with Your Difficult Child when he comes downstairs to tell them that a snake has come out of his closet. While it seems like the pair already have a pretty good handle on dealing with Duckworth (each parent gives him the "hand of silence" when he interrupts their reading) they follow the instructions in the book and send him off to do chores so that he will "forget such nonsense." 

His chores complete, Duckworth returns to his room to practice his recorder and is promptly eaten by the enormous cobra. Communicating in a small voice from inside the snake, Duckworth's parents insist he is wearing a snake costume and, following the instructions in their book, they ignore him so that his fantasies will go away. Things escalate as the recalcitrant Duckworth remains in the snake and, following the instructions in the book, they invite his cousin Digby over for a playdate. Convinced that the snake will eat Digby (his mother's response: "Don't be ridiculous. Digby is afraid of the dark. He'd never get into your silly costume.") Duckworth remembers seeing a snake charmer in a movie and, finding his recorder in the dark insides of the cobra (a great two page spread with upside down Duckworth floating amidst the pervious meals the snake has enjoyed), plays a tune that mesmerizes the snake, allowing him to escape. While his mother is telling him to put his snake costume away, Duckworth walks the snake out the front door. Sussman wryly ends his book, "As he watched it slither away into the bushes, he wondered where he could find a book for dealing with difficult parents."

Júlia Sardà's illustrations are superb: a bit art deco and a little bit gothic, calling to mind Carson Ellis and Edward Gorey. Patterns are everywhere, highlighted by white space and a limited palette of muted colors with the huge, orange snake. As his jacket flap bio notes, Sussman is a clinical psychologist as well as the "survivor of difficult parents," which is intriguing. Duckworth the Difficult Child doesn't tell readers what to think - about Duckworth or his parents, leaving it up to readers to decide who is difficult, who is imagining and who is obtuse, which I love.

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