Verdi is a gentle primer on herpetology, growing up and remaining true to yourself. It’s the work of the author of Stella Luna, the wonderful story about a bat who thinks she’s a bird. Janell Cannon has an affinity for exotic creatures and the talent to invent lives for them and illustrate them in tremendously engaging picture books. The bright yellow baby python who is the hero of this tale is vivid, impulsive, reckless and dead set against turning fat, slow and green like the adult members of his tribe.
As the banana-colored snake scoots around the jungle full of nervous energy, he is desperate to retain his sunny, gorgeous skin. His exuberance sends him slithering up trees, sprinting across the rain forest floor, scrubbing off his encroaching green in the river, barely escaping the mouth of a large, hungry fish, and pitching himself from the top of the canopy. He forms swirls and figure eights and spirals in mid-air–he can almost fly. But he is, after all, a python, and his aerobatics end in a crumpled heap on a branch after a painful crash through the trees.
The fat, old, green snakes rescue Verdi and bind him to a tree with vines so his bruised body can heal. He listens to them tell the stories of their own flights of fancy in the days when they gleamed as bright and unmissably golden as impetuous Verdi. Once he is well he becomes very still while he tries to process his greener and larger and slightly wiser self. Green is a camouflage so Verdi can drape over a branch and contemplate life nearly unnoticed. When a couple of new yellow pythons spot him and fidget around with disdain for the fat, green, motionless figure on the branch, Verdi reveals his true colors–time has changed the hue of his skin but not his adventurous heart.
Verdi is a beautiful book, easy to read aloud to a small child and challenging enough to fully engage a young reader. The art is marvelous–amazing colors. And there is even a brief introduction to herpetology at the end so, in every way, the story of Verdi is an education.
Verdi Janell Cannon | Harcourt Brace & Compnay 1997