Scallywag Press continues to bring us entertaining children’s books from established creators alongside new ones; the ongoing publication of Jon Agee’s work is proving to be an utter delight. It is clear why Maurice Sendak was known to be an admirer. Known for juxtaposing the normal alongside the unusual, Agee’s picturebook opens with a child peering through an ‘exotic pets’ shop window where he espies a dozing rhinoceros. Possibly ignoring the ‘All Sales Final’ plaque that stands upon the shop desk, the boy leaves with his purchase and the story begins.
Hoping, perhaps, that the rhino will live up to its explosively belligerent persona and charge around the garden, the boy finds that his newly acquired pet is far from stereotypical. In true Agee style, the rhino is placid, docile and, at best, ‘tolerant’ of its owner. Here, Agee excels in telling so much through the rhino’s eyes – a few black lines and the exasperated, withering look from the rhino are clear.
As the young owner becomes more exasperated by the rhino’s unwillingness to ‘play’, humorously heightened by Agee’s use of perspective to exaggerate the size difference between pet and owner, the boy seeks out advice from adults. The only piece given is that rhinos enjoy ‘popping balloons and poking holes in kites’.
With such an oddly specific playful resume attached to the rhino’s reputation, the boy heads to the balloon-and-kite-filled park only to find that even then his pet disappoints. Could he have purchased the dullest animal possible? In true Agee style, the joyfully funny and nonsensical reveal comes near the close with an outcome that will delight readers both young and old. A joy.