The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
The Jewish Observer

Company’s Coming and Company’s Going by Arthur Yorinks. Illustrated by David Small. Hyperion Books for Children, 1988 and 2001. 

Have you heard of Arthur Yorinks? If you don’t have children, perhaps not. In any case, let me take this opportunity to introduce you. Yorinks was born in 1953 in Roslyn, New York, and grew up to be an author of numerous children’s books as well as plays and librettos. His best-known work is probably Hey, Al (1986) a picture book tale of a kind janitor and his dog Eddie, who escape their cramped apartment building upon the invitation of a group of large birds. They take Al and Eddie to their tropical island in the sky. Soon, however, the two begin to transform into birds. Desperate to escape, they try to fly away, but their bird features fade as they get further and further away. After falling into the ocean, the two eventually swim home and realize that “paradise lost is sometimes heaven found.”  

Until deciding to write this review, I hadn’t read Hey, Al, nor did I know of Yorinks’ multiple book collaborations with Maurice Sendak. The meeting of the two is remarkable. With all the chutzpah of 16 years of living, Yorinks brought his work to Sendak (25 years his senior) for advice. The two became friends. Sendak introduced Yorinks to Richard Egielski, who would become his frequent collaborator (including the Caldicott Award-winning illustrations for Hey, Al). Eventually, Yorinks and Sendak would also collaborate, on two books: The Miami Giant (1995) and Frank and Joey Go to Work (1996). Even before these publications, Yorinks would branch out into other creative avenues, writing librettos for two Phillip Glass productions, The Juniper Tree (1985) and The Fall of the House of Usher (1988). And he’s still publishing today, including three books about a mean ant. 

My first encounter with the writing of Yorinks was somewhat arbitrary, for I stumbled across his 2001 children’s book, Company’s Going, one day at a bookstore with my two-year-old son. I sat down to read him this tale of a retired couple, Moe and Shirley, from Bellmore, New York, who are visited by buggy little aliens that love Shirley’s meatballs so much they ask her to cater their sister’s wedding on the planet Nextoo. The book’s humor comes from its combination of Dad jokes and Yiddish comedy. Where is Nextoo? Next to Uranus, of course. “I hear it's very nice,” Shirley replies politely. Then, when Moe kvetches about how long the trip will be, Shirley’s dismissiveness is deliciously Jewish. “So it’s a little far. You’ll take a magazine.” Moe worries it could be dangerous. But Shirl has an answer for everything. “We survived your cousin Harriet’s wedding, didn’t we?” she pokes. 

That the aliens are not so very alien at all becomes clear when the couple arrive on Nextoo. A stout fellow called Uncle Irving takes them for invaders and shoots them with a ray gun. When he is told they’re actually caterers, Irving shrugs. “To me—they looked like Martians.” The rest of the plot falls into place as the couple from Bellmore is hastened to the hospital, where the ray-reversal devices also happen to cure their arthritis. Shirley makes more meatballs than she ever has before, and the alien wedding goes off without a hitch. When Moe and wife are finally flown home, Shirley has the last word. “Call when you get home, just so I know you got there, and please take a sandwich, it’s not good to blast off on an empty stomach.” 

As you can tell, I was delighted with this little book. I bought it and brought it home immediately to show my husband. “It’s so Jewish!” I laughed. And it is, in what for me is the best way. It’s not about a Jewish holiday or another particularly Jewish subject. It’s an alien visitation story where the aliens just happen to land in the yard of an old Jewish couple and seem pretty Jewish themselves (or at least Uncle Irving is).   

When I next reread it, I realized I’d ignored the first page, which reads, “So later, after a nice dinner at Shirley and Moe’s, after all the soldiers, pilots, Marines, FBI men, and the cousins had said their good-byes, the visitors from outer space made a momentous announcement.” The book was a sequel! The next day, I happily placed an order for the first book, Company’s Coming, published 13 years earlier. 

It's another treasure. Shirley mistakes the little aliens’ red flying saucer for a giant barbecue grill. The aliens come out and ask to use the bathroom. Misunderstandings proliferate and the government comes in to blow everything up, but, of course, everything ends well. And Shirley even gets a new blender. 

Elyce Rae Helford, Ph.D., is a professor of English and director of the Jewish and Holocaust Studies minor at Middle Tennessee State University. Her book, What Price Hollywood?: Sex and Gender in the Films of George Cukor, will be released in paperback this month. Helford can be reached at elyce.helford@mtsu.edu. 

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