The One That Got Away - Percival Everett, Dirk Zimmer An interesting review in the New York Review of Books of Percival Everett’s Assumption and the approach of my niece Claire’s sixth birthday came together recently to bring this book to my attention. In the course of compiling an Everett bibliography, I discovered that he had written a children's book, and it worked out that my trusty LA County library had a copy.

So here we are.

The story tells of the travails of three unnamed cowpokes who capture a herd of “ones” but then have to go and track down a “one” that escapes from the corral. This is a story that requires illustration as the text alone doesn’t convey half of the message. Left with the unadorned words, you’d be bored. Combined with Dirk Zimmer’s wonderful artwork, however, Everett’s prose takes on a life that illustrates the wrongness of confining some “one” against their will.

If I had easy access to a decent scanner, I’d scan pages 10 and 12 to show what I mean but I’ll try to describe it in words that will (hopefully) peak your interest & get you to acquire a copy yourself. On page 10, the text says: “Then they saw one. And another and a big one. It was a herd.” By themselves, neutral in context. The illustration shows a dozen+ “ones” walking peacefully along, unaware of the cowboys lurking behind the rocks on page 11. There’s a couple holding hands, some kids playing. Most every “one” is smiling (except for a disgruntled “one” but I think he’s jealous of the lovers). Turn the page and it’s a far different scene. Again, the prose is neutral – “They rode into the herd and threw hoolies over one, then another, until they had captured many” – it’s the picture that gives them context. The cowpokes have struck, and chaos reigns. The lovers cling to each other in terror, the children (one having been lassoed) are vainly fleeing up a hill, and the disgruntled “one” is being hog-tied.

Not every illustration is one of terror. One of my favorites is on page 22. The cowboys are climbing up a mountainside and one of them is struggling with his mount, who’s decidedly reluctant to continue. And beyond the initial conceit about the use of “one,” Everett has other amusing plays on words. My favorite among these occurs when the cowboys are scaling the mountain. They’re using a convenient set of stairs but come to a gap so one is sent down to find a stair to close it: “He went to a hole in the ground and dropped down the loop of his lariat. He pulled up a stair. It was a stairwell.” (Perhaps it doesn’t rise to the level of wordplay in The Phantom Tollbooth but I liked it.)

I wound up not getting a copy for my niece. Not because I didn’t like the book but because Claire is too old for it now. If I had discovered The One That Got Away a couple or three years ago, a copy would be winging its way to Buffalo. So – for what it’s worth coming from a 44-year-old divorcé with no children – I would recommend this book, primarily to the 2-5-year-old crowd but also to any “one” who likes well illustrated children’s literature.