Now that the 4th of July, the most patriotic of holidays, is upon us, the time is right for reconsidering a national classic: “Yankee Doodle,” a quintessentially American tune—a song so well established that its absurdity slips right past us. What, after all, does it mean to stick a feather in your hat and call it macaroni?

Looked at closely, “Yankee Doodle” is less ditty than oddity. So what’s the deal with the song? Who wrote it? And when? Tom Angleberger addresses these mysteries and more in Crankee Doodle, a brilliant new picture book in which his twisted wit is on full display.

Dressed in Revolutionary-era duds of red, white and blue—including a cuffed coat loaded with buttons—Mr. Doodle is snoozing in a grassy pasture when the story opens. The reason for this repose? Ennui. “I’m bored,” Doodle complains to his pony, who is chewing grass nearby. “We could go to town,” his companion suggests. And so begins a series of hilarious exchanges, as the pony proposes various activities for their trip to town (foremost among them: purchasing the proverbial feather). Every one of the horse’s suggestions is humbugged by his grump of a master, who meets each with an extensive volley of complaints (Doodle is a long-winded dandy). After much comical give and take, the pony prevails. Doodle caves, and the two take off for town, but not in the way readers might expect. Capping off their adventure is a historical note explaining the origins of “Yankee Doodle,” which, in truth, seem rather murky.

This is the first picture book from Angleberger, the brain behind the best-selling Origami Yoda titles. His wife, Cece Bell, author and illustrator of the Sock Monkey series, provides the story’s wonderfully loopy line drawings. Together, this creative dream team has taken the tarnish off an American antiquity and created a classic of their own. Crankee Doodle is a charmer.

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