This very funny teeny-tiny octopus with the enormous tentacle (at least he doesn’t look like it’s too terribly painful) comes from Canadian illustrator Marianne Dubuc, and I’m here to shine the spotlight on her newest title, In Front of My House (Kids Can Press, September 2010). This is a wee, square, fits-snugly-in-your-hands, fun, and very imaginative book for you to grab and read to the closest wee, not-so-square, fits-snugly-in-your lap, fun, and imaginative child. This is also Dubuc’s first picture book to be translated into English. Not only is it one of the first books that I would now, as a children’s librarian, want to enthusiastically thrust into the hands of the next teacher who tells me they need a great book that makes the introduction of pronouns not-so-boring, but it’s also simply a great read-aloud, celebrating the curiosity that is a child’s wonderfully whacked-out imagination and the places it can take him or her.
(You know when you ask a four-year-old to tell you a story and their wonderful little brains take you on random and absurd flights of fancy? Or maybe not even so much “fancy” per se, but just a series of staccato-like attempts at getting a cohesive narrative going that weave in and out of time and place—“and then so-and-so happened and then so-and-so happened and then … and then … and then”—and you just sit back and bite your lip and try to keep a straight face, not that you’re laughing AT them, but you’re laughing WITH them and you’re just enjoying the hell out of their wacky, impromptu, pull-a-plot-out-of-the-air story-fest? Yeah. THAT.)
There’s really no dramatic action or single narrative thread to speak of here. This is a circular tale, beginning just like this:
The spread following that one is “my house.” Then, the unnamed, child-like narrator takes us in front of the house, on top of the rosebush in front of the house, above the little bird on top of the rosebush in front of the house, behind the window above the little bird on top of the rosebush in front of the house…you get the picture. And there are close to sixty spreads here, too, so we’re taken on quite the journey. It’s on the following spread, very early in the book, that we see that Dubuc is a rascal, that one. And that everything is not what it seems. Notice the hand—er, claw—wrapped around the closet door:
Score! An element of intrigue and danger! (I’d also like to note the child-art hanging on the door of the closet in this room. “SUPER ME.” I. love. it. And that’s because, yes, all young children pretty much know they’re super and unstoppable. Would that feeling only carry on into adulthood as easily, but I digress!)
So, yes. This narrator, who puts the “whim” in whimsy, takes us on one crazy trip. It’s there in that room that Dubuc surprises us again (after the observant reader notices that claw in the closet) with “Under my bed…Whew! Nothing at all.” Eventually, we go into the book of fairy tales, meet the fire-breathing dragon behind the princess, meet the Big, Bad Wolf behind a family of rabbits, and meet all the inhabitants of the Big, Bad Wolf’s belly:
We also make our way, via various delightful and surprising twists, to things like total darkness, an abominable snowman, a vampire, a sun behind the vampire (“Phew!” Dubuc writes), the way-far-out that is outer space, an extraterrestrial on a planet, and much more, only to make our way back to earth to a pirate on a ship on the sea. “Behind the pirate…an enormous tentacle. At the other end of the enormous tentacle…” You guessed it. The guy who greets you at the beginning of this post:
(This may be the most absurd, nonsensical, giggle-inducing moment in a book full of many.)
Eventually, we make our way back to the little house on the hill in this book that Publishers Weekly calls “an extended stream-of-consciousness journey,” which makes clever use of page turns, as well as ellipses. Their review also adds that the “accessibility of the concept and the artwork may prompt kids to choose their own adventures, so to speak,” one of the most lovely things about this book. I’m glad they threw in that note about the artwork: Dubuc’s very child-like drawings—also stylistically accessible and which she rendered in quite the accessible medium, “pencil crayon” (which I think means merely colored pencils, but any artists can correct me if I’m wrong)—may also prompt young artists to sketch out their own pronoun-heavy adventures of the absurd.
Selection from In Front of My House, written and illustrated by Marianne Dubuc, reprinted by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd., Toronto. Text and illustrations copyright © 2010 Marianne Dubuc.