Babar and Zephir
Jean De Brunhoff ~ Random House, 1937
Another find at my new favorite store. It was a hugely damaged ex-library copy (check out the cover!), but I had to throw down the five bucks for this out-of-print wonder. I knew I would otherwise never buy one, and I'd been dying to have a look. Copies in even OK shape go for much more, though it seems that the Dandelion Library version (a flip book with Squirrel Nutkin on the other side) can be had for less if you look around. After taking a peep, I soooo remember it from way back when, and it might very well be the most wonderful of all the Babar books. Babar only makes a rear-facing appearance on the first page, and the book really is all about Zephir, Arthur's (Babar's nephew) monkey sidekick, and specifically, his trip home to Monkeyville for the summer.
So evocative of Paris in the 30s, the whimsy within these pages teeters on bizarre. There are mermaids, a magical Aunt Crustadele, a monster who smells of rotting apples, a mystery, a monkey princess to rescue, and a king's army dressed so swankily, you wished you lived in Monkeyville yourself. (Really makes you lament the pixelated camouflage you see our guys in uniform sporting nowadays.) Really, words can not draw the picture of how cool this story is.
"Who is Polomoche?" asks Zephir.
"He is a monster who lives on his island with his friends the Gogottes. They live on herbs and fruits, and are not savage. But they are bored. From time to time, in order to amuse himself, Polomoche goes off for a trip in a little green cloud. If he meets anyone he likes, he carries him off to his cave. That's what happened to Isabelle. He is capricious, impatient, and has a bad habit of turning to stone those who anger him."
Well, I never. Indeed, it takes Zephir's wily smarts, a violin and a clown suit (don't ask) to save the princess in an imaginative and unlikely tale of one little side kick getting the limelight for a while. Really, really special book. If you like monkeys and you like clowns and you love monkeys dressed as clowns, it is not to be missed.
Travels of Babar