Sunday October 7, 2012
TOTS TO TEENS
By DAPHNE LEE
FRANCESCO Pittau and Bernadette Gervais have a new picture book, Birds Of A Feather, which I have yet to see, but sounds amazing.
The husband-and-wife team are known for their rather far-out ideas and quirky, sometimes slightly dark, sense of humour.
Their book That’s Dangerous, for instance, has provoked several outraged postings on Amazon.com. Admittedly, not everyone will be guffawing over pictures depicting children in washing machines, with plastic bags over their heads, and about to get their brains blown out. It’s perhaps Pittau and Gervais’ opinion that children need to be told explicitly what they are not supposed to do, but many parents express horror that their children should be shown such pictures.
Might the book give kids ideas? Perhaps. I guess it’s for parents to decide whether That’s Dangerous is suitable reading material for their sweet, innocent little ones. However, just because it’s a picture book doesn’t mean it has to be read to/with a toddler. A tween or teen might get a kick out of it, as might some adults.
Same goes for That’s Disgusting! One quite gross illustration in this book shows a girl about to stick her finger up a cat’s butt. However, I know for a fact that this is something children think about doing. My neighbour’s son actually told me he contemplated doing this very thing to my cat and, suddenly, it made perfect sense why his own cat was always so bad tempered!
Birds Of A Feather seems to be presented in the same style as Out Of Sight, another Pittau and Gervais book. The illustrations in both books are in full-colour and realistic style, unlike the sketchy, cartoony doodle-type drawings in Dangerous and Disgusting.
There are also flaps and pop-outs galore. The online reviews make the books sound like quite a visual feast, and also suggest that they contain some fascinating bits of information, told in the pair’s usual succinct manner.
The only Pittau-Gervais book I have firsthand knowledge of is Elephant Elephant: A Book of Opposites. The book illustrates all the usual antonyms like “fat” and “thin” and “tall” and “short”. There are also more unusual opposites, for example “plugged” and “unplugged”.
It’s just now occurred to me that the elephants could have been portrayed in an electric rock band, and playing an acoustic set, but no, “plugged” shows an elephant, full of water, with a cork in its bottom, while the “unplugged” elephant is corkless and leaking all over the floor.
“Boy” and “girl” have the elephants peeing, thus clearly showing where and what their girl and boy parts are, and there’s “sealed” and “unsealed” with the sealed elephant sporting a zipped-up side-flap, and the unzipped pachyderm showing all its internal organs.
I know many parents would think this book very odd indeed. The elephants, who, I must say, look either alarmed or alarming, are line drawings, smudgily coloured in with grey, on an off-white background, and there’s no rhyming text or heart-warming tale as a saving grace. It’s not what most would think of as suitable for children, but I love its subversive humour and originality.
My favourite pair of opposites is “clever” and “stupid” – well, what do you know, the elephants look exactly alike! This is so true and just this one wise illustration is worth the price of the book.
Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to the above address and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.