Written and Illustrated by Bernard Waber
Houghton Mifflin, 1965
This is the house. The house on East 88th Street. Mr. and Mrs. Primm and their son Joshua live in the house on East 88th Street. So does Lyle.
The plot in a nutshell: Lyle the Crocodile is reunited with his stage partner, much to the chagrin of his neighbor, Mr. Grumps, whose schemes land Lyle in the City Zoo.
I grew up with Lyle the Crocodile and his family on East 88th Street. I was a particular fan of his stage partner, Hector P. Valenti, “star of stage and screen.” Okay, I wasn’t so much a fan of the character as I was of his name. Seriously, what an awesome name and title! It never failed to make me smile. So I was very saddened to hear that Lyle’s creator, author/illustrator Bernard Waber, passed away last week, at the age of 91. Mr. Waber introduced us to Lyle in The House on East 88th Street in 1962, in which the Primms move into a new house and discover a crocodile in the bathtub. The Lyle series has 11 books in all and this was the second one published. I chose this one to review because it was the one my kids chose for the big box of books that they gave me for Christmas last year.
In this story, Lyle and Mrs. Primm go shopping and run into Hector P. Valenti (star of stage and screen) in the department store. Signor Valenti and Lyle break into their old act, much to the delight of the store’s customers. Unfortunately, the store is owned by their neighbor, Mr. Grumps (who strongly dislikes Lyle) and, angry at the showboating in his store, he has Lyle sent to the zoo. Signor Valenti breaks him out and wants to take their show back on the road, but Lyle wants to see his house one more time before they leave. As they approach the house, they see Mr. Grumps’ house on fire and Lyle rushes in to save Mr. Grumps (and his beloved cat). Of course, Mr. Grumps has a change of heart and all ends well.
Mr. Waber had a wonderful way with storytelling. He endears Lyle to us with little details, showing us that Lyle is very good at double dutch and enjoys watching construction projects. His artwork is simple, but gives us wonderful insight into Lyle’s world. Some of the pictures are just drawn in shades of gray and green and others feature more colors, but all of them show us a crocodile who loves his family and is living a good life with them.
In addition to his books about Lyle, Mr. Waber also wrote many other children’s books and many of them involved animals. After the attacks of September 11th, Mr. Waber published a children’s book called Courage, in which he writes about the many ways that kids show bravery in their everyday lives. So there are lots of his books left for me (and you) to discover. For now, I am happy to have been introduced to him in my childhood and to have shared Lyle with my own kids.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that sometimes a simple kindness to an enemy can turn him into a friend.