Friday, May 08, 2009

I liked this book an awful lot.


It's Spoon (Hyperion Books). According to Amazon.com's "product details," it's reading level is baby to preschool. I loved it, which means I have the intellect of, at best, a preschooler and, at worse, a baby. What are you trying to say Amazon.com product details, and why don't you come say it to my face? I'll show you who's a baby to a preschooler!

It is written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who has written many other children's books, and it is illustrated by Scott Magoon, who has illustrated many other children's book.

It is the story of a spoon named, um, Spoon I guess. That's what the first page says—"This is Spoon" period, over a picture of the spoon on the cover above, waving hello.

This is Spoon's family says the second page, and the illustration is a big two-page spread of Spoon's extended family, a rather amazing variety of different spoons, their various shapes and functions reflected in their personalities. Here is half of the spread:
Do note Spork on the far right, unsure if he belongs in the family or not.

After the introductions, the narrative plunges into a conversation between Spoon and his mother, in which Spoon tries to explain why he's been feeling blue.

"It's just that...All m friends have it so much better than me."

Knife, for example, gets to cut and he gets to spread, two things Spoon never does. And then there's Fork. Check out some of the awesome things she gets to do:



And then there's Chopsticks, who everyone thinks are "really cool and exotic." Here are Chopsticks, doing what looks like tai chi, and then dancing around a piece of sushi:


But wouldn't you know it, the other little utensils also feel blue, as the grass is always greener on the other side. They're jealous of the many cool things spoon gets to do and they can't do, and a few of those things are among the things Spoon's mom points out to him.

"They'll never know what it feels like to clink against the side of a cereal bowl," she says, or "relax in a hot cup of tea."

I hate to contradict Spoon's mom, but teabag doesn't seem to be all that fun to hang out with:
In fact, that tea bag looks like he could use a cup of coffee.

These images should give you a pretty good idea of what Magoon brings to the table (Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Table! Get it?!). His anthropomorphic kitchen utensils are made somewhat more human by only the most minor alterations (stick figure arms and legs, eyes and mouths), and a great deal of attitude and emotion. The images of Spoon gleefully diving into a bowl of ice cream, or doing a handstand while shaking flour into a mixing bowl, or sticking his tongue out in the joyful exertion of clinking on the side of the bowl are wonderful examples of artistic economy; Magoon gets so much out of so few lines that the work seems, well, if not magical than at least alchemical.

It almost doesn't seem right that so much can be communicated by so little, but then, that's the essence of good cartooning. Or, in this case, illustration, but what Magoon does so well here is certainly what the best comics artists and cartoonists do in their medium.

I liked the story too. It's rather basic, and the moral is one that I'm sure I've encountered in dozens of other works, but it's communicated quite effectively (And with several silly puns. For example, at one point says of his versatile friend Fork, "I bet she never goes stir-crazy like I do.") And I imagine kids will appreciate the characterization transferred to everyday objects they see a couple times each day. I know that for the next few days, every time I ate my breakfast cereal or stirred my coffee, I thought about what my spoon might be thinking.

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This being a comics blog, I suppose I should not that Spoon is not a comic book by any definition of the word, despite what the presence of a dialogue balloon in that last scan might imply (that's actually the only dialogue balloon in the whole book). But I'm not going to hold that against it.

2 comments:

Johnny said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention one of your favorite topics when discussing children's books: of all the non-utensil items we see, only the teabag is a character. Why is a pouch of dried leaves granted sentience and not, say, a slice of cake?

Caleb said...

Oh my God, you're right! I can understand why the foods weren't given sentience, as it would be kind of horrifying to see fork diving tine-first into a screaming piece of cake, but then, why is the teabag alive instead of the cup?

Hmmm...I guess teabags are somewhere between a utensil and a foodstuff, but it is disturbing to think of the fate of that teabag. Once the tea is finished, it's going to get tossed in a garbage bag, whereas the spoon and cup will go on to have a nice bath or shower and go back "home" to their drawer or cupboard.

Oh man, that poor tea bag...