lotties new beach towel

Lottie’s New Beach Towel

Lotties’s New Beach Towel by Petra Mathers

1998

Illustrated by Petra Mathers

Chickens tend to be cast as dithering ditzes, along the lines of Henny Penny and “the sky is falling.”  It is a sign of Petra Mather’s imaginative originality that her modest heroine, Lottie, is a hen.

Lottie is squeezing lemons and making peanut butter and banana sandwiches when the mailman leaves a package from her Aunt Mattie.  She opens it to find a beach towel, red with white polka dots.  Picnic lunch and towel in hand, Lottie heads for the beach to meet Herbie for an outing in his boat.  The story is a simple day in the life, with the myriad uses of the towel (as an island refuge for sand scorched feet, as a sail for a dead engine, as a wedding veil for a bereft bride, as a shawl when night descends) as the binding thread.

With minimal text, a simple plot line, and colorful clean pictures, Petra Mathers creates two memorable characters who enjoy a gentle loving friendship.  Lottie, grounded and competent, leads a rich and creative life – she makes lemonade from lemons, knits socks for Herbie’s webbed feet (he is a duck), strikes up new friendships with the wedding party, composes a letter on her old fashioned typewriter.  Herbie, sporting a hat emblazoned “Capitano”, is a dear old salt who repeats silly jokes and relishes a good cake (or anything else that can be eaten).  Lottie is affectionate and gently mocking.  Herbie acknowledges his foibles sheepishly, sustained by her understanding.  They are both decent and tender hearted.

They are also comical.  Even when read a hundred times, children always laugh when Lottie mistakes a starfish for her foot (“Silly me.”)  They laugh when the motor dies (“I think it’s just tired,” said Herbie.  “I think it just went to sleep,” said Lottie.)  They laugh when Herbie is messily gluttonous (“I’m so hungry I don’t care if there is sand on my sandwich.  Get it, Lottie?”  “Yes, Herbie, and jelly on your belly.”)  The bright fresh watercolor illustrations add humor, beginning with Lottie whose red crest variously resembles a floppy water balloon, a beret, a windsock, or an exclamation point.

Petra Mathers has written and illustrated a number of other distinctive books, beginning with Maria Theresa, the story of a hen who flies the coop and joins a circus.  Theodor and Mr. Baldini, one of her most original stories, features a dog who begins to speak.  His first words – “Beef Bits again?”

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