Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Some sequels to some picture books I really liked:

Chopsticks (Hyperion Books; 2012)

In the upper right-hand corner of this cover, there's a tiny little image of Spoon, the star of the very good picture book Spoon, waving to readers and saying, "not exactly a sequel to Spoon. More like a change in place setting."

Writer Amy Krouse Rosenthal and artist Scott Magoon return to the same world of anthropomorphic kitchen utensils, focusing on Chopsticks, the two characters who were among the many Spoon was jealous of in his book, because it seemed to him that they (and Fork and Knife) always got to do all kinds of cool and fun things that he couldn't (Spoon, Fork, Knife and other characters from the original, including the rough-looking tea bag, all appear).

"Perhaps you've met Chopsticks?" the first page asks, and we see the identical chopsticks, holding hands and waving to the reader, the only difference between them being a slight one in the way Magoon draws their minimalist eyebrow lines to give them slightly different smiles.

Krouse devotes the next six pages or so describing their long relationship and inseparability, and all of the things they've done together, with Magoon offering darling illustrations of the friends lifting sushi together, bathing in the sink together.

One day, while trying to master a fancey new culinary trick, which appeared to be a a form of chopstick kung fu used in eating asparagus tips, one of them suffers a terrible injury, a dramatic red "SNAP!" cracking his bottom tip almost clean off.

He's whisked away—by an actual whisk, one of the more subtle of Rosenthal and Magoon's visual puns—and taken to the medicine cabinet, a hospital full of anthropomorphic cotton balls, Q-tips, bandages and other items (note the Saline solution, crying). There the doctor, a bottle of glue, informs the other chopstick that the injury just needs to set.
The non-broken chopstick refuses to leave the side of the broken chopstick, until he's forced to do so by the injured one:
"What could I possibly do without you? Nothing! That's what!"

"You'd be surprised. Go, my friend. And then come back and tell me about it."
You won't be surprised to learn that after initially being unsure of himself, the chopstick goes on to find all sorts of fun things he can do without his partner and best friend (a list that includes only one thing I've ever done with a single chopstick, which is use it in lieu of a toothpick to see if a cakey baked good is done baking or not).

"Unexpectedly," we're told, being apart had made each of them even stronger."

So, it's a kitchen fable about co-dependency basically...? Sort of. While the message is a bit more complex and maybe mature than Spoon's everyone is different, and those differences are what can give value to life message, with a bit of look to your own life for meaning and happiness, it's still simple enough: An exhortation (or, depending on your age, perhaps a reminder) to be yourself and live your own life, even if it's in conjunction with another or others. Time apart, or time to yourself, is a sign of a strong relationship, not a weak one.

That, and maybe something about not trying to flying kick stalks of asparagus, as you can really mess up your leg doing that.


Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Seaside Shenanigans (Carolrhoda books; 2011)

Chris Monroe's Monkey With a Tool Belt, the 2007 picture book with maybe the best title ever, spawned its first sequel in 2009, with Monkey With a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem. But with her latest book, the adventures of one Chico Bon Bon (the monkey who has to tool belt) have become an epic trilogy.

The pleasures of this one are the same as those in the previous one, first and foremost among them being that it is a book about a monkey with a tool belt. Just think about that, meditate on it. That is a hell of a thing right there. The chief pleasure remains Monroe's excellent art work, however, which gets sharper and more refined with each additional installment. Her character designs get stronger, more fully-realized and more animated with each book, but her artwork retains its rough, simple almost hurried-looking style.

Chico is trying to fix a sprinkler for some of his fellow anthropomorphic animals, when "the mail kitty" rides up:
Ha ha, "Hello, Kitty!" Funny.

Clark, the elephant character from the previous book, has summoned Chico by postcard to his uncle's sea side resort, where things are breaking and Chico's know-how is needed. After a journey by bicycle rickshaw, during which he fixes many problems he finds along the way, he arrives at the resort, and Monroe presents it in a lovely, two-page spread that's part map, part illustration, and it's all full of wonderful, funny little details.
Clark introduces Chico to his uncle, who turns out to be an alligator! How could an alligator be the uncle of an elephant? It's a mystery, but not one the characters concerns themselves with. Rather, they try to solve the mystery of the very strange occurrences that keep leading to things getting broken around the resort. Chico fixes them, picking up clues as he goes, until he performs a difficult operation to open a stuck door...
...and finds the root cause of all the troubles, which I am now going to spoil:
"Chico had not expected this," the narration dryly states.

Once Chico explains to the large, green dancing duck that its violent, clumsy dancing has resulted in a bunch of damage, it promises to be careful next time, and rides away. Problem solved.

Look at this duck:
I love it.


The Monster Returns (Henry Holt; 2012)

This is the sequel to Peter McCarty's Jeremy Draws a Monster, a book I was enormously enamored with (as I was with McCarty's Henry In Love).

As you may or may not recall, in the original we met Jeremy, a blank-faced little boy who liked to stay alone up in his room drawing while all the other kids played outside. One day, he draws a monster, and the monster proves to be pretty poor company, and eventually Jeremy has to draw the monster a one-way bus ticket to get rid of him.

As the title betrays, the monster comes back, although, as the cover illustration shows, the two former roommates seem to be on decent terms now. Maybe some time apart did them both some good (not unlike the chopsticks in Chopsticks, perhaps!).

McCarty opens with Jeremy once again drawing alone in his room, while kids play ball in the street below. A paper airplane arrives in Jeremy's window, with the instructions, "Draw a Compass and a Telescope. Look out your window North by Northwest."

Guess what he sees, in a rather neat reveal that comes with a turn of the page?
That's right, the monster, still wearing that magnificent going-out hat Jeremy drew for him in the last book. The phone rings, and the monster tells Jeremy "I'm bored...And I'm coming back!"

If one hadn't read the first book, I suppose there could be some menace in this threat, as the monster is a monster. Likewise, the conflict could be seen as non-existent, as a reader who didn't read of the monster's previous time with Jeremy wouldn't know how demanding and impolite the monster is.

At any rate, Jeremy comes up with a cool plan, in which he invites the kids up to his room to each draw their own monster—treating readers to a half-dozen more McCarty monster designs, each composed of tiny little lines of one color, as the original, and each reflecting the appearance of their creator in someway (Unlike the original, each of these seems to be influenced by a particular animal, rather than being a more general monster; that is, one looks feline, another is a bird, there's a rabbit monster and a goldfish monster, and so on).
The monster returns to a room full of monsters, and the ending is fairly touching, of the sort that may warm a young parents heart, or break the heart of a lonely old emotionally unstable man.

I liked it a lot.


Revenge of the Dinotrux (Little, Brown; 2012)

I had previously declared Chris Gall a super-genius for his 2009 Diontrux, which super-ingeniously combined the two very most favorite things of most little boys—trucks and dinosaurs—into an irresistible class of creatures. He would take a particular dinosaur species and a particular truck or truck-like piece of construction equipment, and come up with an amalgam entity, devoting two pages to describing a little something about it's life.

So for example, bulldozer + triceratops = Dozeratops, and dump truck + diplodocus = Dumploducus, and, of course, truck + Tyrannosaurus Rex = Tyrannosaurus Trux.

In the original, Gall explained that "millions of years ago prehistoric trucks roamed the earth" and that "they weren't helpful like the are today." After that introduction, he gave readers a tour of his imagine prehistory (in which cavemen and dinotruck lived side by side...?!), before eventually explaining that Dinotrux evolved into the trucks of today. Like a good monster movie though, he had a stinger ending, in which a rusty T. Trux is seen in a dark museum, it's headlight/eyes suddenly turning on.

Revenge of the Dinotrux fulfills the promise of that page. In this book, the rusty carcasses of the Dinotrux are on display in museums, which treat them a little like zoos, since they are still technically alive. It's not a lot of fun for the Dinotrux, and after one especially rough day at the museum (Kindergarten Day), T. Trux loses his shit, charges himself up, and leads his fellow Dinotrux through a hole he breaks in the wall.

"The Dinotrux want revenge!" the narration screams.

What follows is a series of one and two page illustrated scenes depicted the Dinotrux—the same species from the original, with a few intriguing new ones, like The Velocitractors—interacting with the modern day world, and causing all sorts of chaos. It's kind of like a G-rated version of the Topps "Dinosaurs Attack!" card series, only with robot rather than reptile dinos.

When the humans have had enough, they force the Dinotrux to attend school to learn how modern trucks are supposed to behave, but they rebel from that as well, and ultimately use their construction skills to build a solution to the problem that sent them screaming out of the museum in the first place.

1 comment:

Akilles said...

Awesome books.