Remember how “RIF” in my world really stands for “Random Illustrator Feature”? Well, I’m back with another RIF, this time with an illustrator who visited us once before. This week, I saw a copy of Laurel Snyder’s first picture book, Inside the Slidy Diner (Tricycle Press, October 2008), illustrated by Jaime Zollars. Jaime stopped by 7-Imp this past February to show us some of her beguiling art work but wasn’t able to share Slidy Diner art at that time, so she’s stopped by today to share some.
How to describe this book? The Slidy Diner is no ordinary diner, that’s for sure. It’s creepy, slimy, icky, gooey, and…well, slidy as all get-out. There’s a mice-and-mumble man, pictured below (“a gray man at the counter who mumbles and smells like mice,” that is); there are some wigglepedes, slanting floors, moldy walls with black trim, and tilting tables; there are cookies you better watch out for, since what look like chocolate chips are really tiny bugs crawling off your plate; and there’s Ethelmae, who works at the diner, sees everything, and saw when our bold protagonist stole a lemon drop from behind the counter. This is why she spends her days at the Slidy Diner, “the greasy spoon of stuck,” where “the noise is always” but there’s never any music and where someone is usually running with scissors. Our protagonist is pictured above there at the top of this post, luring in a friend—perhaps trying to make one—to whom she gives a tour of the diner in this macabre adventure.
And Ethelmae, who smells distinctly like “rotten grill grease” and has flies stuck to the back of her icky sweater, likes to sweep up the sticky buns from the floor and serve ’em up again. Mmmm. And, if you’re lucky, Ethelmae will serve you up some pumpkin asparagus pie “with crunchy-bit topping. Nobody will tell you what the crunchy bits are.” Don’t forget the Lumps and Dumplins, the Greasily Niblets, the hive-inducing coffee, and the ladyfingers. (“They really are.”)
It might be clear by now that this is a fun, rather creepy Halloween-time-of-year read. But it’s more than that. The end of the tale veers off onto a cryptic, almost poignant trail of ambiguity, as our protagonist leads her friend past the bathroom below the cellar and past all the diner’s creepy elements, which Snyder and Zollars so vividly show us all throughout the book, and into the diner’s “dark blue secrets” and “silver whispers.” There are “magic trapdoors. To birthdays and Saturday” where “goodbyes have been banned,” the girl leading her friend—with her lemon drop as guide—into what looks like her special, secret room. It’s just as creepy but much more sanitary, and there are balloons and what looks like a potential party. But, in the next wordless spread, her new friend is leaving the diner with his mother, the girl crestfallen. On the final page, she’s offering up her lemon drop to the reader: “Have one. They’re delicious…I won’t tell a soul…”
So, is this lemon delicacy her entry into an imaginary world, one of eerie eating and disgusting diners? Or does she already spend her days in said diner and use the candy to lure friends into a make-believe world of silver whispers and blue secrets in order to feel less alone? I’m not sure, and maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think so. I think Snyder’s created an alluring tale of fancy and wonder, which respects the child reader’s ability to decide the reality of the girl’s world for him- or herself. And Zollars’ art is evocative, concise, a perfect creepy match for little ones who will want to, as Kirkus put it in their review, visit this diner repeatedly, poring over all her details.
Many thanks to Jaime for the art!
Unlike the Slidy Diner, I can’t make any promises about banning my own goodbyes here today. The wider, non-cyber world calls. But you can meet me in the Slidy Diner.
Until then . . .
Illustrations copyright © 2008 Jaime Zollars. Reproduced by permission of the illustrator. INSIDE THE SLIDY DINER published by Tricycle Press, an imprint of Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.