Daniel Pinkwater (writer) and Jack E. Davis (illustrator),
The Picture of Morty and Ray (Harper Collins, 2003)

After watching an old film that bears a striking resemblance to Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (presented in monochrome), friends Morty and Ray proclaim the ugly picture at the end to be "Neat!" and decide to make their own, painting each other. Of course, in order for the picture to change, they have to do mean things, which are described in loving detail. Each day, after causing all kinds of trouble, Morty and Ray return to see if their picture has turned disgusting so they can eventually revel in its gruesomeness.

Daniel Pinkwater and Jack E. Davis's combined efforts produce a funny portrait of the minds of pre-adolescent boys. All the details are here: the watching of creepy movies (although I can't imagine Dorian Gray being one that would appeal to that population), the love of junk food (Morty likes cheese puffs while Ray is partial to pizza, even to the point that they appear in the painting), the excitement over the smallest things ("Neat!" "Yeah, neat!"), the devotion to a cause (their determination to be mean if it makes the picture ugly) and the total absence of girls in their thoughts.

All this makes The Picture of Morty and Ray a delight. There is a minor level of suspense, as Davis does not show us whether the picture has, in fact, changed until the end (although it was likely too good an opportunity for an illustrator to pass up). In the end, however, there is nothing in The Picture of Morty and Ray that screams "classic!" As characters, Morty and Ray are never identified individually, are therefore interchangeable (apart from appearance and junk food preference), and there is nothing that makes either of them particularly memorable. In addition, the lack of consequence for their miscreant actions (they are rewarded when they get what they want, and their final victim likes the picture enough to keep it) makes this a not particularly positive example for children of the target age of grades two through five (or I could just be an old fuddy-duddy.)

But it's all in fun, and The Picture of Morty and Ray is diversion enough for an afternoon. The cover price is perhaps a little steep, but Jack E. Davis's illustrations are highly detailed and lend themselves to lengthy scrutiny.

And, really, how can you go wrong when Oscar Wilde himself is quoted on the back cover saying, "Pinkwater and Davis are great!"?

[Craig Clarke]