Written by Coleen Salley, Illustrated by Janet Stevens
Epossumondas was his mama’s and his auntie’s sweet little patootie. They just loved him to death.
The plot in a nutshell: A possum gets gifts from his aunt and keeps using the wrong method to bring them home.
Epossumondas is a re-telling of an old Southern folktale and is an example of a ‘noodlehead’ story, which usually means there’s a main character who is not particularly bright. In many such stories, the humor comes from them misunderstanding instructions or situations. (The Amelia Bedelia books are another prominent example.) I have to admit, right up front, that I have never been a huge fan of this type of story, which is probably due to my pet peeve about giving clear instructions and being understood.
That being said, I do see how this story could be a big hit with kids. Epossumondas is just doing his best to follow instructions and, like Amelia Bedelia, follows them a little too closely. His mama is a classic Southern/Cajun character, with a big flower print dress and a bright yellow hat with a red flower. (Artist Janet Stevens modeled the character on author Coleen Salley and she’s a dead ringer for her.) I imagine kids will have a fun time predicting how the little possum is going to get it wrong each time and will likely find the outcome funny as well. The humor is intended to be gentle and we are meant to be laughing at the situation rather than at Epossumondas, but his mama insults him repeatedly, which seems a little harsh.
Ms. Salley includes a full-page note at the end, with more information about the history of noodlehead stories and their place in folklore. She suggests that perhaps Epossumondas was smarter than he seemed, and was just trying to get on his mama’s nerves (and thus avoid having to run more errands). The success of this book resulted in three sequels, each of which features a different folk storytelling genre.
Ms. Salley was, by all accounts, an amazing woman and one who definitely left her mark in the world of children’s literature, although she didn’t write her first children’s book until the age of 72! She was a teacher of children’s literature for most of her career and toured the world, spreading her contagious love of storytelling. The writing community adored her, as evidenced by the books dedicated to her by celebrated authors such as William Joyce, Tomie dePaola and James Marshall. Disney recognized her contributions as consultant on the movie The Princess and the Frog by basing the character of Mama Odie on her and including a dedication to her at the end.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that common sense is not always something we all have in common.