Whiny-Child Vindaloo and a Jackass of a Jackass:
The Slightly Demented of 2010

h1 August 17th, 2010 by jules

I thought I’d check in quickly this week to add to the ever-growing list of Slightly Demented Picture Books. Some of you may remember that librarian and blogger extraordinaire Adrienne Furness and I discussed our favorite slightly demented titles back in April of 2008, and I’m always happy when I see titles to mentally add to the list. (For the record, I’m speaking for myself here. For all I know, Adrienne may not care for these titles. I’ll just have to ask her, won’t I? Any excuse to talk to Adrienne.) 2010 brings us a couple I want to feature today. I’m talkin’ the wickedly funny, the mighty irreverent, the subversive little gems that surprise you. Sure, there’s a place for The Sweet and the Cute, but you all know I have a big, cushiony, pillowy, feathery soft spot in my heart for the subversive little gems, too.

Bruce Eric Kaplan, cartoonist for the New Yorker, has brought us his first children’s title, Monsters Eat Whiny Children (to be released at the end of this month from Simon & Schuster). Needless to say, I immediately fell in love with the book’s title. This is a cautionary tale (of sorts — I love how, at the end, Kaplan reminds us that, “to tell you the truth,” the children forgot their Lesson Learned and whined just a little bit every now and then). But I’m getting ahead a bit. Let’s back up a little…

“Once there were two perfectly delightful children who were going through a TERRIBLE phase, which is to say they whined ALL day and night,” the book opens. Though their “kindly father” warns them that monsters eat whiny children, they forge ahead with their great and terrible whining, until…

And what does he do? He begins to make a whiny-child salad. Of course, Henry doesn’t like sitting on lettuce, and Eve whines, “No wooden bowl.” And the best line in a book full of many funny one-liners? The monster calls in his wife, who samples the dressing, spits it out, and screams, “I hate cilantro!”

This book is funny as hell. The annoying monster-neighbor comes over and tries to take charge. But chaos ensues, essentially due to all the various neuroses of the monsters — very human-like, indeed. The neighbor’s cousin gets so frustrated at being unable to light the grill for whiny-child burgers that he kicks a hole in the fence, and the monster’s wife, very much in charge, says a whiny-child cake is out of the question, since her bottom is too big. (“Besides, I hate baking,” she says.) And so on.

They even consider a “whiny-child vindaloo,” but sometimes “it’s hard to figure out if you’re in the mood for Indian food” (the book’s Second Best Line). It’s like dinner in many privileged contemporary American homes on some days: They’re having a very difficult time determining simply what to make. In the meantime, the children play with toys, and the monster’s aunt, “angry at the world as she always was,” shows up to yell at everyone. When she spits at them (both figuratively and literally) that they simply should make a whiny-child cucumber sandwich, they jump with joy. “It’s such a relief to finally figure out what the right thing to eat is” (the book’s Third Best Line).

And, while they argue over whether to use “healthy twelve-grain bread” or “fluffy white,” the children escape. Observant readers will notice they’re not even hightailing it out the door. No tear-assin’ away in fear is necessary: They’re slowly walking away, hand-in-hand, since the monster clan is too busy arguing to really even notice. And the monsters all sit down for their cucumber sandwiches, sans whiny children, and—since this is a cautionary tale—the kids never whine again, once they get safely home. Except for, as mentioned earlier, occasionally. When they forget. As we privileged folks are wont to do. But, hey, so are the monsters!

Publishers Weekly writes, “New Yorker cartoonist Kaplan adds only the subtlest color washes to his blank-eyed figures, framed inside black lines, serving the snarky text with a pinch of Shel Silverstein and plenty of bourgeoisie irony.” Now, I ask you, dear readers: How often do you get a little bit of bourgeoisie irony in your picture books? Now you know you wanna see it.

* * * * * * *

In the realm of children’s books, if (by chance) your eyes are slowly closing and your head is starting to drop from ennui, fear not: There’s always Lane Smith to come along and make you snap to. If you’re an illustration junkie, as I am, that snapping-to is all on account of his sleek art work and the ever-so stylish design of Molly Leach. If your breath doesn’t necessarily get taken away by good illustration, there’s always his subversive humor. (This is the funniest book I’ve seen all year, though I can say with confidence I won’t be seeing it in any school libraries here in the South.)

Fellow Picture Books Nerds have likely already heard about this book’s premise, involving a jackass and a monkey, and its wickedy whack ending. (Did I actually just type “wickedy whack”? Okay. Fine. I’m really not 18 years old, despite how it might sound. Or, you know, we can just pretend I am. This is the internet, after all.) If not, I can’t bring myself to tell you the book’s last line, as I’d like for you to experience That Moment without me having ruined the surprise for you. Is it for everyone? Nope. Is it for all kids? Nope again. Lane’s books have never been middle-of-the-road readers meant for everyone. What it is, though, is a picture book constructed entirely around a tongue-in-cheek gag. The entire thing is one big rim shot. It’s the picture-book equivalent of this, which, yes, I just lifted straight from the Web, and I’m not sure whom to credit for the image, so please, dear readers, will you bring me some some snacks during visiting hours in cyber-jail? Some fruit might be good. Throw in some Cheez-Its for good measure. (And will I be in jail even longer for not putting “®” after “Cheez-Its”? I guess time will tell.)

Right. So, yes. It’s A Book is the picture-book equivalent, as I said, of this:

The book will shock some, but that is what good comedy does. (Well, depending on your sense of humor, but analyzing humor is inherently anti-funny, so let’s move on.)

You all know this is the place for geeking out over illustration. School Library Journal beat me to it when they wrote that Smith achieves “economy and elegance on each page,” adding that it’s a “clever choice for readers, young and old, who love a good joke and admire the picture book’s ability to embody in 32 stills the action of the cinema.” Indeed, I watch Lane’s movies, to follow the reviewer’s analogy there, with great interest and marvel at how each successive book gets even…um…eleganter. (It’s still early for me, folks. Quite clearly, as evidenced by the incessant rambling in this post, more of the sweet black lifeblood that is coffee is needed here.) More elegant (that’s better), that is, in terms of line and composition. And design, Molly’s doing.

Now, for you fellow illustration nerds—and for those wondering what-in-the-what-the this book is even about (which I realize I haven’t noted yet)—I point you to this post over at Lane’s blog (from which I lifted part of this post’s title*), which covers the basic plot, as well as illustrator fun facts via Ms. Leach, such as How Foreheads Bring Out the Maternal Instinct in the Reader. (WHO KNEW?) And such. So, shoo. Go on over and read, and I’ll be here when you return. I’m true blue like that.

{TIME INTERLUDE. Insert your favorite infomercial-zombie music here. God, I love Urban Dictionary. I mean, did you see yesterday’s new definition? But I digress.}

Welcome back! That was a fun post to read, yes? Back here at 7-Imp this morning, Lane is also sharing some early art, not yet posted at his site. So, I’m signing off with these early (and finished) images, and I thank Lane for sharing…

First off, we have a spread from the first dummy, which featured a child instead of a monkey and a jackass. (You read at the afore-linked Lane-post why he decided to ditch the kid, right?)

(Click to enlarge.)

The finished illustration of that spread as it appears in the book
(Click to enlarge.)

The second dummy (the characters are now animals)
(Click to enlarge.)

The finished illustration of that spread as it appears in the book

From Lane: “Before I decided on ink-lined characters, I was going to paint all characters in oil with no outlines.
Like this monkey…”

(Click to enlarge.)

…”but I decided to paint them in oil with ink outlines.
This is what the art looks like before I apply the color.”

* * * * * * *

* Now, the alternate title for this post, which sprung from a conversation with my esteemed and also wickedly funny co-author, Peter D. Sieruta, was “This Goes Out to All You Jackassers in Jackass Flats, Nevada,” since Peter pointed out to me that there are several places out west with the word “Jackass” in their name: Jackass Flats, Nevada; Jackass Butte, Washington; and Jackass Acres, Arizona, the former being the home of BREN Tower, the world’s tallest tower for scientific research. WHO KNEW? again! No Jackassers-from-Jackass-Flats-Nevada’s feelings were hurt during the creation of this post. (I hope.)

See? I really think I might be 18 years old anyway.

* * * * * * *

Illustrations from MONSTERS EAT WHINY CHILDREN © 2010 by Bruce Eric Kaplan. Used with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

All Lane-Smith art work used with permission of Lane Smith © 2010 and all rights reserved and all that good stuff.

9 comments to “Whiny-Child Vindaloo and a Jackass of a Jackass:
The Slightly Demented of 2010”

  1. The monster’s wife is Eisha! (But don’t tell her today, since it’s her birthday.)

  2. Jama, of course I thought of you all on that cilantro line!

  3. I DO love Monsters Eat Whiny Children, Jules. My favorite part is when they’re arguing about the grill. I swear I’ve heard 400 variations on that conversation in my life.

    I haven’t read the Jackass Book (as I now think of it) yet, but I want to. Honestly, next-to-no-one even uses “jackass” as a curse anymore, so it’s hard for me to take this that seriously. If it was, you know, The B Word, I might feel differently about it (or, again, if I’d actually READ the book–I really gotta read it). Currently I’m of the mindframe that it’s important to expose kids to all kinds of language, to make sure they know it’s there and what it means, even if what we’re ultimately doing is discouraging its use. Books are a great way to promote that kind of conversation. Lucas and I have discussed all the curses we’ve come across while we’re reading the Harry Potter books aloud–what they mean, what might be an appropriate time to use them, when it’s not appropriate. I mean, I’d rather the schoolyard bully not be the one supplying definitions. So I dunno. Again, must read book.

  4. Adrienne, my uncle told me recently that when his (now grown) children were little—I think he mentioned 2nd and 3rd grades—they would have Curse Word Nights at dinner, in which they would go over all the words they heard at school that day (from, as you say, the schoolyard bully) and demystify them, tell them what they meant. They’d even teach them new words they might hear, give them context, etc.

    I love that.

    I think you’ll like the book, but come back and let me know.

  5. […] Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast a blog about books « Whiny-Child Vindaloo and a Jackass of a Jackass:The Slightly Demented of 2010 […]

  6. Read it. Laughed heartily. Bought a copy for Lucas (along with The Worst Case Scenario Guide to Middle School, which he starts in THREE WEEKS, not that I am freaking out or anything). Can’t wait to see his face when he reads it.

  7. Also, curse word nights are brilliant.

  8. I enjoyed this post and the link to the old one about various crazy books. I like this one :
    but am going cold turkey on buying picture books for a while!

  9. […] wrote here (back in 2010) about Kaplan’s last picture book, Monsters Eat Whiny Children (also Simon […]

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