by Cynthia DeFelice, Illustrations by Robert Andrew Parker
DK Ink, September, 2001.
Picture Book, 32 pages.
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Cold Feet is a retelling of a story that appears in the repertoire of many British storytellers in one form or another. It is a plot more close to a folktale than a ghost story, and it calls on the reader to react in a rather sophisticated way to this unusual story. Though not quite a fable, the lesson taught may be useful to some extent. Perhaps it is not a good idea to play a trick on one's fellow man, even if that person richly deserves a little punishment. One can observe that revenge is better left to the hereafter.
The story follows a talented Scottish bagpiper who, through no fault of his, own falls on hard times. Unfortunately, the Scottish people have fallen on hard times and no one has enough extra money to pay to be entertained by the art of the finest bagpiper in Scotland. Willie McPhee, the piper, begins to move from place to place, but has little luck.
After a long time on the road, Willie's clothes have become nothing but rags and his boots are completely worn out. It is winter and his feet are very cold. Walking one winter evening through the snow, Willie discovers that a "tree" that he has tripped over actually is a dead man who is wearing a nice pair of boots that are just Willie's size. Since a poor man must be practical, Willie tries to remove the boots, feeling that they would benefit him more than they would a dead man. Willie finds to his horror that when he lets the dead man's leg fall that the man's foot had broken off inside the boot. Nevertheless Willie takes the boots, feet and all, with him.
Willie keeps traveling until he comes to a farmhouse. The farmhouse looks warm and cozy, so Willie knocks on the door and asks for lodging and a meal in exchange for some very fine music, but the farmer turns Willie away and suggests that Willie can spend the night in the barn sleeping with Blossom, the cow. Blossom, the cow, is warm and contentedly chewing her cud so Willie goes to sleep beside her.
On awakening the next morning, Willie finds that the dead man's feet have thawed out and that they slip easily out of the boots. Willie dons the boots, and then he has an idea. He puts one of the feet in the cow's mouth and the other foot in his worn out shoe. When the farmer discovers the cow with a foot in her mouth he assumes that the cow has eaten the piper. Not wanting any trouble, the farmer quickly buries the feet in a small grave.
Willie watches the scene with great satisfaction, and then he has an idea on how to embellish the joke. He stands on the grave and begins to play a tune. The farmer and his wife, seeing the piper standing on his own grave and presumably playing a tune, are so frightened that they run away never to heard from again.
Willie, on the other hand, enters the house and begins to enjoy the comforts of having a home. Willie hears a knock at the door and invites the man standing in the doorway to come in have some food and drink and warm his feet. At this the man replies "Feet? As a matter of fact that's why I have come." Willie notices that the man has no feet. And with this, the story abruptly ends.
While written in simple prose fully readable by any normal fourth grade student, this book would probably appeal much more to an older and more sophisticated young person. Ghost stories, even one written in a light whimsical manner can frighten a younger reader.
Robert Parker has done a masterful job in illustrating this creepy little tale so that one actually feels optimistic about the whole macabre story. His ink and water color illustrations capture the cold and bitter weather, while at the same time showing the hapless piper in a lighthearted way. The warm colors of the piper's kilt and stockings stand out against the black of the bare trees and the white of the snow. The background is stark, but the characters in the tale are bright. Scotland in the winter is evoked, but the characters move across the dark landscape it in a cheerful way. This book is not for most children, but presented in a positive way it could be enjoyed by a more knowledgeable and sophisticated young reader.
--Sarah Reaves White
Reprinted with permission from The Internet Writing Journal®.
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