PICCOLO: AN INTERN’S TALE
If you enjoy the works of Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, you will enjoy Piccolo: An Intern’s Tale, which is the first book of a series written by E. Merwin. It is the first person account of an Italian greyhound with an artistic flair for sculpture, using the artisan’s tools of torch and steel to create unique works of art. His talent was molded by his artist father who also works in steel.
This story of a dog wielding torch and steel will at first stretch your mind and belief system. As the story unfolds, you are swept into a world where such things are accepted as normal. The narrative intertwines humans and dogs in a believable way and carries you from sleepy Venice to New York City’s exciting art world.
The character of Piccolo Fortunato makes this book believable. One sees through the eyes of Piccolo, and if you listen carefully, you can even hear his Italian accent and feel the coolness of his thoughts as he faces every challenge. He is both a philosopher and an artist.
Piccolo Fortunato sets out to find his father who left the family behind to find fame and fortune in America. Piccolo crosses the sea on an ocean liner where he meets the notorious Guy Gizard, an American artist of international fame, who offers him an internship. With high hopes, Piccolo signs a contract that unknowingly gives all of his creations to Gizard who then imprisons him in the basement of his workshop. Piccolo is faced with an uncertain future when he suddenly finds his father who has also fallen for Gizard’s trickery. The two must find a way to escape and return to Venice. Will they make it?
Merwin is also the author of Northman’s Daughter, a book recreating medieval Ireland. Her stories have appeared in the children magazines Cricket and Highlights; she has won The Vermont Playwright’s Award and an honorarium through TADA youth theater in Manhattan. Her former husband was a sculptor who created public artworks around NYC. Their son Ted followed in his father’s artistic footsteps and learned at an early age to create freestanding, steel sculpture.
An Intern’s Tale evolved from bedtime stories and the real life experiences of the New York art world. The illustrator for An Intern’s Tale is the author’s daughter. Throughout the book, she uses urban iconic images resembling woodcuts, which adds an old world charm to the story.
MY IMPROBABLE MISCHIEF
My Improbable Mischief by E. Merwin and Cynthia Stuart, PhD is a collaboration and an improbable tale about wayward New York rats, no not sewer rats, but the cute fuzzy kind. It all begins with a rescue of a mother rat from a snake tank who gives birth to two boys named Archer and Fletch. They are adopted by Skyler, a highly intelligent girl, who teaches the boys about Shakespeare. The three communicate in a most unusual way, which would make most animal lovers envious.
The villain of the story is Mrs. Skinner, president of the condo board, who seems more than eager to evict Skyler for any infraction of condo rules, such as having rats as pets. In the process of hiding Archer and Fletch from Mrs. Skinner — and evading the pest control company — Archer and Fletch escape out of a window into the busy and dangerous New York City streets.
Unaccustomed to anything but a quiet well-appointed condo, they must fend for themselves and search for Skyler, or rather be found by Skyler. Along the way, they fall in with a motley crew of sewer rats and find shelter among them. They make friends with Rat and Lil’ Doe who live in the cold damp shadows of the underground world of the city. In an improbable turn of events, they are reunited with Skyler, but how that happens is part of the fun of reading this book.
There are several different stories going on within this book. It is not just a simple rat escape and recapture tale. The deeper themes of the story deal with loyalty, chivalry, friendship and love. The story is loosely based on real events such as the rescue of a momma rat from being eaten as snake food. (Archer and Fletch were two of 11 baby rats that the author adopted when momma rat gave birth after the snake incident.) There is also a frivolous encounter with a Broadway diva rat who is loosely based on a real diva rat named Toby the White Rat who has a part in the Broadway play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.
Cynthia Stuart was a professor of psychology, medical law and ethics, and has written many articles on the interaction of rats as therapy animals. She writes, “Human – animal bonds can be utilized in a therapeutic context in work that is geared towards developing positive relationships with fellow humans.” Her love of rats began in 2003 as an environmental educator for a mini-zoo that featured a family of rats abandoned on its doorstep. As any rat companion will tell you, once you hold a furry rat in your hands, the bond between human and rat is the same as that of human and dog or cat.