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“The Great American Mousical,” “Jake Cake: The Robot Dinner Lady”

by Payal Kapadia

“The Great American Mousical,” Julie Andrews Edwards, Puffin Books; 2006; 133 pp.

If you don’t know who Julie Andrews is, ask your parents. They’ll tell you how Andrews, the star actress of movie classics like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music,” brought cinema alive for children all over the world.

No one knows better than her, then, how to tell a story to children, and better still, how to bring to life the wonderment of theater. Andrews’ tribute to the Broadway musical is set in New York — where else? — in the heart of the city, way down beneath a theater known as the Sovereign. Here, a miniature replica of the Sovereign — an architect’s model — has become the stage for a troupe of theater mice all scuttling around to produce their own show, “Broadway Airs.”

As Andrews begins her story, you can smell the dust and the makeup; you can feel the heat of the lights; and you can hear the chaos of so many mice working to produce something monumental together. Adelaide, the star of the show, is throwing her typical tantrums; Wendy, the innocent ingenue, is bursting into tears; Enoch, the stage manager is trying his best not to tear his hair out in frustration; and Pippin, the young apprentice, is observing everything around him and making mental notes.

It could be any other day backstage, when suddenly the production is threatened by the imminent demolition of the theater and, worse still, the disappearance of Adelaide.

This is where the story splits in two, telling us on the one hand how the disappearance of Adelaide throws her fellow thespians into a tizzy; and, on the other hand, how Adelaide finds herself miles outside New York City, struggling to return in time for the show with the help of a kindly mouse called Henry. Will the show go on without Adelaide? And will Adelaide make it back to the place she loves most in the whole wide world?

If you’ve never been to the theater, this is a wonderful introduction from someone who has firsthand knowledge of how it all works. It’s not just a mouse-size tribute to the Broadway musical, but also a commendation of teamwork. Everyone — from the costume manager to the hairstylist, the set designer to the choreographer — has a hand in creating the sort of rousing finale that is the stuff of standing ovations.

Andrews’ heartwarming tale captures the electric atmosphere of the theater so that you can’t help falling in love with it, just because the author is so evidently in love with it, too.

Note: For children 8 to 12 years.

“Jake Cake: The Robot Dinner Lady,” Michael Broad, Puffin Books; 2007; 132 pp.

Unbelievable things keep happening to our hero Jake Cake, but that doesn’t mean you have to doubt his story. He can’t help it, you see, if he leads a rather eventful life.

In this trio of incredible adventures, Jake Cake runs up against a robot; teaches a band of errant goblins a thing or two about gardening; and locks horns with a witch.

Jake might seem like your ordinary freckled boy with unkempt hair, but the trouble is that no one around him is playing straight. In “The Robot Dinner Lady,” the “lady” in question has turned lunch time into a dreaded activity. No more chips, no more burgers, no more pizza — only cabbage with mince, cabbage with liver or — worst of all — cabbage with cabbage. And when Jake’s science teacher sentences Jake to an additional helping of cabbage, the dinner lady goes ballistic, slopping out helping upon helping on Jake’s trembling plate.

Things happen — don’t they always? — and Jake finds himself wondering if the dinner lady is inhuman, in more ways than one.

In “Jake Cake and the Garden Goblins,” Jake discovered why goblins don’t make good gardeners when he enlists their help to weed his mother’s garden. And in “Jake Cake and the Tricky Witch,” he discovered that there’s nothing sweet about the little ol’ lady in the sweet shop: she’s a witch hellbent on getting him into trouble with his mom.

The incredibleness of Jake’s adventures makes them hugely hilarious, and his mom’s disbelief every time he tries to explain himself makes for classic laugh-out-loud comic situations. Plus, the author’s illustrations of a permanently-perplexed Jake and his eternally angry mom only make the stories funnier. The stick-figure sketches and the first-person narrative gives the impression that you’ve opened Jake Cake’s diary and read it out aloud. This is great comic fare, and if you haven’t had your fill of outlandish characters, there’s another book of Jake Cake adventures involving a werewolf.