Van Allsburg, Chris. THE SWEETEST FIG. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1003. ISBN 0395673461.
In this bizarre picture book, Monsieur Bibot, a fussy French dentist, receives two magic figs with the power to make
dreams come true as payment for pulling the tooth of an old woman. Bibot scoffs at the idea of magical figs, but discovers
their power for himself after eating one. He is now determined to use the second fig to become the richest man on earth.
Unfortunately, Marcel, his long-suffering dog, gobbles it up and foils his plan.
Van Allsburg has done an excellent job creating a villainous protagonist through narration ("If his dog, Marcel, jumped
on the furniture, Monsieur Bibot was sure to teach him a lesson!") and through illustration (Bibot looking menacingly at Marcel
with a rolled-up newspaper and Bibot smiling with relish as he holds the old woman down to pull her tooth). The language
in the story is formal and precise, an accurate reflection of Bibot's obsessive personality. The soft-textured, sepia-colored
illustrations further enhance the mood of formality. Bibot is presented in immaculate dress, eating the fig with a knife and
fork, pinkie elegantly raised. The illustrations also help to move the story along. Over a series of three pages, we see the
dentist's dream come to life as a horrified Bibot, clad only in underwear, watches the Eiffel Tower bend to the ground.
Initially, the plot appears to be simple, yet intriguing. Everyone would love to find the means to make their dreams
come true. It isn't until the climax of the story that its true complexity is revealed. The karmic theme of the story, that
our future is determined by our actions, is implicit, emerging naturally from the surprise ending. I think this is a fascinating
book. I reminds me of the wonderful Alfred Hitchcock features I enjoyed as a girl. The elements of magic and mystery will
appeal to most children, and readers of all ages will delight in the unlikable Bibot getting what he deserves.