Sorry, but I don’t think anyone’s done a really great Thanksgiving book yet, perhaps weighed down by the immutable goodness of the original event, or perhaps what became of those wise Wampanoags later. Either way, there’s not a lot of potential for high jinks here, or hilarious misunderstandings, or curious puppies, so what you end up getting three weeks out of every November are display tables groaning under virtually identical retellings, every year with different artists having a whack, most of them resigned to the same beige and ochre color scheme, as though this were everywhere consistent with documentary evidence from the times.
Probably there needs to be a time every year when we are solemnly grateful for how damn good we’ve got it, though I’m not sure hours of cantankerous travel followed by uncomfortable seating arrangements, lumpy, slurry fixin’s and groggy TV football are exactly the optimal circumstances for such reflection. Questions about what you’re doing with your life. Someone crying. Something burning. No, you’d think this would be a better time for wondering that anything should ever go right when all of our best laid plans are always flying out the window.
And so, in this season of promising harvests and grand, often unrealistic, designs, I bring you Thelonius Monster’s Sky-High Fly Pie about a furry, warty, dreamy sort of character who once swallowed a fly, and liked the taste of it so much he’s inspired to prepare a monumental dessert using many thousands of them to share with all his “disgusting-est friends and relations.” Here I should mention (and not for the first time) my longtime bewilderment at the wasted potential of monsters in picture books – for heaven sakes, won’t somebody please give them something better to do than hiding out under beds and in closets, feeling sorry for themselves? Think about it: Who else but a monster looks so positively delighted sitting across from a box full of invitations that need signing? And lest you imagine this monster (or any monster) old-fashioned, Thelonius is also depicted (by the great and unmistakable Edward Koren who’s been documenting this species since 1962) reaching out to a friend electronically at spider.net for some recipe advice. “Something sticky,” is her suggestion, which turns out to be a matter of engineering as much as flavor, still Thelonius is up for it (think of the brining, the cheesecloth, the ice packs you may have employed to try and master a turkey), intrepidly pursuing his feature attraction in the most revolting of places.
Oh, but what an attraction this turns out to be! “Please come to my mansion / This Sunday for pie / Don’t wear a tie,” writes Judy Sierra; the rhymes are like that throughout, twitchy and unpredictable and perfectly befitting the story of a pie that turns into a symphony orchestra. Quick! A parade! Too late. “Bye-bye fly pie.”
The crust tastes pretty good though – “with a slight hint of fly” – once it unsticks and comes sprinkling back down from the heavens onto the appreciative paws and mouths and forks of Thelonius and his “eleventeen” relations. Eleventeen’s a crowd. Turns out Thelonius was possibly a little distracted then, and never got around to the part about baking – which is anyway just as well. There are more of us out there than will admit it who probably prefer the dough. “Thank you for forgetting,” reads a sign in the crowd at the end as Thelonius is accepting his congratulations on a perfect monster bash. Never mind it’s a couple of those flies who are holding it up – ‘tis the season for enjoying every accidental mercy we can get.