I Know An Old Laddie|
by Jean Little
Periwinkle Isn’T Paris
by Marilyn Eisenstein
The Magic Mustache
by Gary Barwin
Bing And Chutney
by Andrea Wayne Vo
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by Theo Heras
This fall features a fine crop of humourous stories for the picture book crowd that includes new titles by Jean Little and Andrea Wayne von Konigslow, as well as books by relatively new names like Gary Barwin, Rose Cowles, and Stephane Jorisch.
The imagination of the prolific Jean Little has run rampant, fracturing “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly” shamelessly with I Know An Old Laddie. Her catchy refrain—“‘You’ll die,’ said I. ‘Not me,’ said he.”—only adds to the mischief and craziness as the laddie swallows a flea, a worm, and other gruesome delicacies. The list of animals gets more bizarre with each stanza. Some of them will really gross the kids out—how does swallowing a skunk sound to you?
Rose Cowles, who burst on the scene with Gilbert de la Frogponde, captures the mood with her over-the-top illustrations. Double-page spreads are brightly coloured and filled with surreal details. The book is larger-than-life in every way. With a jaw like a boa constrictor, the old laddie swallows the beasts whole and ignores the warnings until he swallows the squid and “die he...” Like its better known predecessor, I Know An Old Laddie is a catchy new rhyme that will be repeated to much laughter.
And now for something really off-the-wall! Gary Barwin’s The Magic Mustache goes a step beyond Little’s Laddie. Here is a “Jack-in-the-Beanstalk” tale with a twist. A poor, simple nose takes his parents’ (a pair of eyes) only possession, a pair of glasses, to the market to buy some food. On the way, he meets two ears who trade him a mustache for the specs. Mom and Dad are furious and throw the mustache out the window. Sure enough, the next day, the mustache, which is magic after all, has grown into a huge beard that climbs to the sky. You know the rest—or maybe you don’t.
This parody is perfect for puns—real groaners like, (Beard): “Well, you noses don’t often listen. You usually look down on us beards.” And later: “Surely you’ve heard the story about Jack and the beard talk.” The nose takes the perilous journey up the beard and finds treasure in the giant mouth’s castle. And, naturally, the hero wins the day and saves face.
Québécois illustrator Stephane Jorisch does not miss a beat of this outrageous tale. Working in watercolour, gouache, and pen-and-ink, he fills the pages with visual jokes. How he manages to create full-bodied characters out of one body part is fascinating. Our boy Nose is a Rootie-Kazootie-esque character, complete with cap turned sideways, red sneakers, and a wagon, as he jauntily ventures out to seek his fortune. The family home, as rickety as the car on stilts next to it, stands against a stark background which would be bleak if it were not so full of peculiar details. The book is well designed to get maximum laughs. It is truly an original, imaginative retelling.
With a subtle nod to Dorothy and Oz, author Marilyn Eisenstein explores a young girl’s yearning for faraway places, in this case, Paris. Polly loves all things Parisian and pleads with her mother daily to take her on a trip to the City of Lights. Her mother’s answer is always the same: “Someday, Polly, someday.” Polly doesn’t want to wait, so she plans to run away with her friend, Clementine. Off they go, early one morning, to catch the bus that will take them to the ocean. From there, they plan to board a ship bound for Paris. The night before, Polly dreams about her impending adventure. But next morning, as the bus pulls away and Polly’s hometown of Periwinkle shrinks from sight, Polly is no longer quite so eager to leave what she knows and loves.
The story moves quickly from moment to moment and mood to mood. There is no real tension and, although it is a bit rushed, the dénouement is satisfying.
What is particularly appealing about Periwinkle Isn’t Paris are the illustrations by Rudolf Stussi. There is an old-fashioned quality to them, with lots of browns lending a sepia-like quality to the pictures. Odd angles and sweeping curves establish the duality that is inherent in the theme. Stussi cleverly contrasts cosmopolitan Paris and homey Periwinkle, running them together yet maintaining their separateness as, for example, when Polly climbs her spiral staircase that turns into a stairway over the Seine. The humour is gentle and the story, reassuring. “There’s no place like home”—but one can always dream about those over-the-rainbow places.
Bing and Chutney is Andrea Wayne von Konigslow’s latest book—a story about opposites. Bing is a homebody who loves to cook and share meals with her best friend, Chutney. Chutney has big ambitions: she loves to dance and leaves for the big city to pursue her dreams. Bing opens a cooking school and becomes famous. Chutney, meanwhile, garners praise and applause as she dances in the “Great Hall”. Still, the two friends think of each other often and, in the end, Chutney returns home to a great feast where she dances to the delight of her friends. All in the space of just one week!
The humour in Bing and Chutney comes out in Andrea Wayne von Konigslow’s illustrations, which are as light and airy as Chutney’s pirouettes. Her style is cartoon-like and she deftly draws her animal characters—Bing is a pig and Chutney is an elephant—imbuing them with human qualities. A breezy little tale, Bing and Chutney sometimes feels a little disjointed. Still, von Konigslow succeeds in the end because Bing and Chutney, having achieved fame, are still the best of friends.
These four books take us from the ridiculous to the sublime and back again—and accomplish it all with a sense of style, originality, and humour. •
Theo Heras is a children’s librarian with the Toronto Public Library and a partner in MaryContrary Associates.