"Once upon a time there was a nice little boy named Earnest." Oh, and how nice he was! He always listened to his mother. Always. Always, always.
He ate his vegetables, even when they were the only things on his plate. He played quietly, and when he was done, he picked up his toys. He sat up straight and went to bed on time. He helped with the household chores and even managed more difficult tasks (for kids anyway) like polishing, mending, and cooking.
What did Earnest never do? The list is extensive: spill, whine, dawdle, talk back, get his own way, or have a good time. But he was a nice little boy, there's no arguing that.
So when Earnest noticed a new family moving into the house next door, he asked his mother if he could go over. His mother hoped he would meet another nice little boy. "Mothers always want their children to meet other nice children. They want their children to meet nice children who will be a good influence."
Earnest is greeted at the door by another nice little boy. This boy introduces himself as Vlapid. He has beady eyes, pointy ears, and spiky gray hair to match his grayish complexion. And Vlapid always listens to his mother. But when his mother looks like ... um, well ... you see, Vlapid's mother is ... ah, shucks. Let's just try this:
So yes, Vlapid always listens to his mother (and Earnest is all too eager to help), but can you imagine what Vlapid's mother expects of him?
I bought into this book right from the start. Earnest looks completely wholesome - suspenders, bow tie, right hand politely tucked into his pocket - while Vlapid, I think, may have a troll or two in his family tree. At first I was disappointed that the book ended when it did, with only the promise of days spend together "influencing" one another. I expected readers to see a slow transformation in Earnest. Instead, they are left with the two boys together, smiling pleasantly, fishing. But what comes next? Does Earnest's mom invite Vlapid's family over for tea? Does Earnest begin helping his mother like Vlapid helps his?
Maybe it's better this way. While I love the idea of tea at Earnest's house, other readers will surely imagine a variety of other possible scenarios. Leaving what happens to the discretion of the reader allows for as many creative endings as there are readers, and all readers will be satisfied.