Here are another pair of incongruous friends - a dog, Figaro and a cat called Rumba. You might think of the Owl and the Pussycat, Frog and Toad, Little Bear and Little Tiger in Panama by Janosch, Cat and Fish by Neil Curtis, Bear and Mouse created by Bonny Becker and even Minton and Turtle created also by Anna Fienberg.
Figaro and Rumba is a beginning chapter book - it has six chapters with zany illustrations by Stephen Michael King. I enjoyed the final three chapters more than the earlier ones. I thought perhaps the intention might be to make Rumba a pessimist and Figaro the optimist but this idea is not really sustained. Rumba is, however, more practical than Figaro. He knows their house needs cleaning from time to time especially when the windows become so dirty Figaro cannot see outside. Rumba also takes time to pack food and other supplies when the two friends set out on adventures. But it is Figaro who saves the day when Rumba is almost kidnapped or catnapped in the final chapter.
Figaro is very keen to travel on The Very Fast Train. He has seen it advertised on television. Nate the rat, who is their friend, has told Fiagaro about the speed, the food and the fun. Before they can set off there are a few things that hold them up. House cleaning, saving their friend Nate after a canoe accident and an unexpected visit to the doctor - he is a numbat. The biggest challenge, though, comes on the train itself when the friends meet a crocodile. "Figaro studied the crocodile's wide mouth. He didn't trust his smile. And his voice was too smooth. It was sugary and sweet like Mrs Fooozy's chocolate icing but with nothing solid underneath. It was a voice that left you feeling empty, with sore teeth."
If you are looking for a simple, joyful little chapter book Figaro and Rumba and the crocodile cafe is perfect. After you read this book look for Jeremiah in the dark woods by Allan Ahlberg which also features a dastardly crocodile. I will predict this book might be short listed in 2013 for the CBCA awards. If it is I will be very happy because it is always great to have a junior title for younger readers to share before Book Week. I also imagine there may be some further adventures for Figaro and Rumba. It would be good to know a little more about their experiences in Cuba.