Picture Book Review: Timothy Basil Ering’s
World of Wiggleskins

h1 January 21st, 2008 by jules

I should state up front my bias for any book illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. If there were ever any doubt of my fan-dom for his style of illustrating, then my adoration was sealed with his playful and offbeat art work in 2006′s playful and offbeat Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen by Nancy Wood.

Candlewick has just released Ering’s latest title, one he both wrote and illustrated, Necks Out for Adventure: The True Story of Edwin Wiggleskin (January ’08; review copy). The protagonist, the titular Edwin, and his world look as far-out as the title sounds. Prepare to enter a world in which Ering channels his Inner Dahl in spirit and vocabulary (there are, for instance, red-spotted scrintalberry leaves, glimmering golden-eyes sliverstones, and a hideous hornly scratcher, who — in one particular illustration — seems himself to be channeling Seuss’ The Grinch and his never-ending diabolical grin).

“For as long as anyone could remember, the wiggleskins would not leave the mud.” The wiggleskins, inspired by the clams of the world (at least according to Ering’s bio in this title), follow one simple rule in their sheltered life in their watery seabed home: Necks out to eat and . . . necks in to hide. But Edwin won’t stand for that. As a wee young one, he asks his mother what would happen if the wiggleskins flowed with the current. While everyone else laughs, his mother tells him to be sure to stick his neck out for adventure like he’s wont to do. “Two huge filthy feet” appear one day — alongside a “terrible smell you’d never forget!” — and, after putting their necks in their shells to hide, the wiggleskins are scooped up by the spindly and wiry hands of a hornly scratcher, taking them to his home for a pot of fresh-boiled wiggleskins.

As for the rest of the story, which I’ll allow to unfold for you should you choose to take a gander at this fish-out-of-water (so to speak) adventure tale, suffice it to say that Edwin’s risk-taking, natural curiosity, and courage save the day, and he will win your allegiance as the unlikely hero that he is. There’s a lot of action and humor in both the small details and larger punchlines of Ering’s acrylic-and-ink illustrations, and even the intentionally-messy, spastic “Tim Ering” font (heh) adds to the energy of the story. You can confidently add this winning tale to your collection of effective story time read-alouds; cyclical, there-and-back-again action/adventure odyssey stories; and Guys-Read-type tales.

But what really stands out are Ering’s illustrations. In this Washington Post review, Elizabeth Ward wrote, “{Ering’s} olive and aquamarine seas and sun-washed beaches are the work of a born landscape artist.” His sense of composition is spot-on, too, as you can tell from the cover and its dramatic arrangement of elements (that cover also gives you a good sense of the abundant movement in the book, which really propels the reader along. Even the spreads of Edwin lying on the watery wiggleskin seabed are alive with movement, with the relentless current of the water surrounding him). Ering uses every bit of the book to tell his tale, employing the final end pages to wrap up the action for the confused and hideous hornly scratcher. And there’s a texture to these landscapes that gives his spreads an added layer of depth. Not to mention his depiction of rays of sunlight pouring down in the seabed spreads. Oh my, it’s all quite striking.

A modern-day saga of a misfit hero, especially recommended for fellow picture book geeks who like to see exceptional illustrators at their best.





3 comments to “Picture Book Review: Timothy Basil Ering’s
World of Wiggleskins”

  1. Timothy spoke and showed slides of his work a few years ago at the Northeast SCBWI conference. His personality really came out in his illustrations. Funny and fascinating! He also showed a lot of boating and seashore photos from Cape Cod (I think). It was great to see how his love of the water has been an influence. Can’t wait to see the book.


  2. I loved his illustrations in The Tale of Despereaux – I’ll have to keep an eye out for this one.


  3. Me, too, Jess!

    Jennifer, that’s great that you got to hear him speak. I’m a big fan of his books.

    Thanks for visiting, you all!


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