By R.B. Scott
San Francisco, CA - A Likely Story: How an Innocent Walk in the Woods Became a Showdown with the Forest's Prime Evil is the first book (hopefully not the the last) from journalist and author Ross Drake, a former assistant managing editor at PEOPLE and one of its founding editors (he has also written for Newsweek, Smithsonian and TV Guide).
Drake's many colleagues regard him as one of the finest text editors on the planet. And, his first book does not disappoint. A Likely Story is dexterously droll, captivating and ingenuous.
It is a tale Drake invented, embellished and refined on-the-fly over the years as he told it again and again to his own enraptured children. He finally put to paper over the last year or so. It is one of those rare (surely it’s destined to become a classic) children's books that will delight, amuse and intrigue adults, as they read it alone or aloud and with gusto to pre-teen and older children. Its wry textured metaphors and world play will provoke many laugh-out-loud moments.
Consider the following encounter between William the miller’s son, the protagonist, and the fabled, if now aged, flabby and tottering and homeless Three Bears:
"At dusk the two noticed the distant glow of a campfire and heard in the gloaming the murmur of voices. “Perhaps we should stop and pay our respects,” William said quietly, though what he really wanted was dinner.
"First let’s find out to whom we’d be paying them,” said Barney, ever the stickler for grammar and caution. “It wouldn’t be wise to drop in unannounced on a nest of rapscallions and footpads.”
"Creeping forward in silence, they edged close to the campfire. There, in the flickering light, sat neither rapscallions nor footpads but a down-on-their-luck family of bears, dining on what remained of a fish. As the travelers approached, the largest of the bears – the patriarch, named improbably Theodore (“Don’t call me Teddy”) -- poked his nose into the breeze. “Show yourselves!” he bellowed, catching the scent of the interlopers, “or be prepared to suffer the consequences.”
"What are the consequences?” William inquired, weighing his options.
“If you’re inedible, nothing worth mentioning,” said Theodore. “If not, we’ll have to see.”
"William had always considered himself inedible, but realized that others might differ. “I’m taking the chance,” he told Barney, “but don’t worry. I still have the walnut.”
"“Do as you must,” said Barney, who had little faith in magical nuts. With that, William strode boldly into the makeshift campsite, consisting of three crude tents with a small keg of honey, and introduced himself.
"Theodore seemed mildly disconcerted, but not about to forsake good manners and tear his guest limb from limb. William was grateful for that and, relaxing his grip on the walnut, proceeded to make conversation. “I see there are three of you,” he began. “Do you by any chance know the story of The Three Bears?” It was a weak opening gambit, he knew, but he had to start somewhere.
"“Know it?” exclaimed Mrs. Bear, whose name was Irene. “We’ve lived it! We’re not out here by choice, you know. We’ve been evicted!”
"“That’s right,” piped up her son Orson, once known as Baby, but now a hulking 400 pounds. “First it was the porridge, then the beds, now the house. Curse the day we heard the name Goldilocks!”
"“No cursing,” said his mother, aware she had company. “But you could have mentioned the chairs.”
"William was stunned. “You’re saying Goldilocks had you evicted?”
“Not her,” Irene explained. “Big Freddie took the house as a wedding present. Not that she wants it. For one thing, it was the scene of a grave childhood trauma – she’s terrified of the place to this day. For another, she’s got no use for Freddie. She said she’d rather marry a goat. Goats didn’t know if they should be flattered.”
“Freddie wasn’t too pleased either,” said Theodore. “He shut her up in a tower until she relents. She’s been up there for months and shows no sign of relenting. Meanwhile, we’re living al fresco.”
And, so it goes for 90 or so enchanting pages. In sum A Likely Story... is an engaging and clever story that in due time should become a children's classic. The world needs to hear more from Ross Drake.
"When young William the miller’s son leaves home to make his way in the world, his sage sheepdog companion Barney warns that the unexpected must be expected. Shrewd advice, it turns out, in this comic, engaging account of life after happily-ever-after.
Entering the forest of the tyrannical Friedrich the Enormous (“Big Freddie”) to his downtrodden subjects), William is startled to find a gallery of storybook stars from his childhood, older now and fallen on hard times.
The Three Bears are homeless, evicted from their woodland bungalow and unceremoniously forced to live in the wild. Fearing for their own safety, the Three Little Pigs have turned their cozy brick cottage into a fortress. And poor Goldilocks has caught the eye of Big Freddie, who plans on making her his own and won’t take no for an answer.
Enter William and the invisible Barney, seeking a higher purpose for their travels than just passing through. Smitten with Ms. Locks himself, William plots a spectacular rescue, assisted by the acclaimed porcine architect Terzo; Aldo, a supremely self-assured housecat; and the irrepressible Mr. Toad.
To accomplish their mission, the conspirators must deal first with Freddie’s army of lowlife mice, recruited from the backstreets of Europe, and then with the tyrant himself, defended by a cadre of homesick penguins and a menacing pride of battle-scarred lions."