A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the ironic delivery of this preposterous story gives it a special charm, while the artwork, with its scratchy line work and humorous imagery, might have used Crictor's clever tongue as a brush.
What's the story?
Tomi Ungerer's story of the snake that arrived by parcel post and became a member of the household is mirthful and gladdening. The spindly lines of Ungerer's illustrations are ideal for conveying the snake's sinuous progress, and his dry humor lets the story's queer circumstances feel quite natural, even when Crictor is disarming a robber or teaching kids the alphabet.
Is it any good?
Much of the pleasure of this book has to do with composure. Crictor's cool, as though it is standard procedure for a snake to be posted to a French village from Africa. And Madame Bodot is, for the most part (after some mild flapping when she opens the package Crictor comes in) unflappably self-possessed as she introduces the boa into her daily routine. Aplomb -- even the word sounds French.
Tomi Ungerer's artwork has that beguiling and otherworldly pen-and-ink charm reminiscent of Shel Silverstein and Edward Gorey. It is a world of creaky, economical lines, slightly off true, just like how you wanted your grandmother's house to be. And you can't help but grin that it is a snake that lies behind the learning of those letters and numbers, a snake on the page being worth any number in the grass.