Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Diary of a Wombat

I had heard about Diary of a Wombat written by Jackie French and illustrated by Bruce Whatley for years now. I’ve been told that I had to read it. I’d heard how wonderful it was. But the book wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting this modern classic to be sweet. Judging by Bruce Whatley’s adorable wombat on the front I was expecting cute and sweet. What I didn’t expect was to laugh so hard I snorted. I didn’t plan to giggle with each page. This book is a joy.

The simple story is told from the point of the view of a wombat as it “trains” its human neighbors how to get along. Some pages are as simple as Tuesday which is mostly made up of sleeping and eating grass. That is until the wombat discovers the family next door. After destroying the flat, hairy creature at the door (welcome mat), the wombat demands a reward. After it gets a carrot, it quickly learns how to demand them (chewed through the door). And  the trouble for the family is just beginning. The wombat digs burrows in the garden, chews up gardening equipment, pulls laundry off the line, and generally makes a pest of itself.

This book has a marvelously dry sense of humor. I was so shocked when the book turned funny that I read a line and literally snorted. The humor snuck up on me. I love how droll French’s wording is. After the wombat grows tired of carrots, it demands something else. “Demanded oat AND carrots. Only had to bang large metal object (garbage can) for a short time before they appeared”. Or where she demands a reward for destroying their welcome mat. Each page brings new mischief and a new interpretation by the wombat. It is not exactly subtle but the dry sense of humor is right up my alley.

Bruce Whatley creates an adorable character who looks at the world through sleepy eyes and is more than happy as long as it’s getting its way. The book is filled with white space which leaves tons of room for playing with the pictures and the words. We see the welcome mat, but French never reference it directly. It’s only the flat, hairy creature that is invading the wombat’s territory. I love the triumphant look on the wombat’s face after the battle. Most of the time though it just looks sleepy and cute. Whatley’s acrylic illustrations are a mix of detailed expressions and blurred edges. Most of the illustrations are of our hero but that is really all we need with the book. An adorable book that made me laugh. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Emily Gravett

I have a problem. Right now I have four books by Emily Gravett sitting on my desk waiting to be reviewed. The problem isn't how to talk about these amazingly inventive, stunningly sweet, and incredible children's book. That isn't my issue. The issue is that there is no way that any of my reviews would be good enough to match Gravett's great books.

I've become a huge Emily Gravett fan in the last couple months. Emily draws beautifully. She invents wonderful stories that surprise readers on every page. She creates books that are as inventively designed as they are well written. I know I'm gushing. I can't help it. I haven't found an author that excites me this much since I read my first Adam Rex and Lane Smith. Emily has become a favorite in a very short period of time.

So instead of reviews I'm going to present all four books. All of these are recommended, highly!!! All of these books are wonderful and sweet. All of them made me smile and laugh.

Wolves is the story of a rabbit who checks a book out from the library on wolves. As the rabbit reads about how wolves hunt and look and where they live, we see the actual wolf sneaking up on the rabbit. The oblivious rabbit walks across the giant wolf's muzzle until it gets to the part about diet. Gravett plays with the ending in a way that I won't tell you. It's one of the great charms of the book. I love the little details on this story. There is a library checkout card at the beginning of the book, like it is the little rabbit's book. The book the rabbit is reading is written by Grrabbit. The cover and back of the book are the only realistically rendered thing in the book, the rest are line drawings. It's the little details that made this book so much fun for me.

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears takes book design to a whole new level. The words and plot itself are simple. This is a little mouse listing out all of his fears. And he's afraid of a lot. The dark, snakes, being eaten, sharp objects, water.... The list goes on and on. But it's the design that made me adore this book. There are surprises on every page starting with the giant whole taken out of the cover. There are ragged pages, foldout newspaper articles, a very funny map (with heartbeats as the scale), and everywhere there are Gravitt's wonderful line drawings. I loved her little mouse quaking in fear up until the end. This book doesn't just break the fourth wall, it shatters it.

Orange, Pear, Apple, Bear is the simplest of books. Gravett uses five words in total in this book and four of them are in the title. But it's the way she combines them, along with her adorable images, that makes this book, a favorite. There is a sweet simplicity here. The bear is adorable as he plays with the fruit, changes colors, and show off. All leading to a one word ending that had me smiling. This is one of those books that I would read to my youngest child. And reread over and over and over.

The last book I have for Gravett's is Meerkat Mail, one of her newer stories. Sunny the Meerkat is getting tired of his close family life. His brothers and sisters drive him crazy, the desert is too hot. But the family motto is Stay Safe, Stay Together. That is the only way they can stay safe from the jackals that try to eat them. When Sunny sets out on his own he writes his mother a letter and details why and where he's going. He heads out to various family members, trying out different lives. At each place he writes his mother a postcard which are affixed in the book. At first Sunny loves his new found freedom.  Even with the ever-present jackal always just a step behind him. But as the book goes one the letters grow different. Sunny is becoming more homesick. We hear him talk more and more fondly about the heat and the close family. He hates the rain and the dark and the ants. He starts to long to come home. His last postcard is sent as he arrives in the loving embraces of his family. This had all of the humor of Gravett's other work but also the sweetness. It's a much simpler book than the first two I mentioned but I think this one might be my favorite. Humor and heart always work for me.