7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #218: Featuring Mini Grey

h1 May 8th, 2011 by jules

“On a pebbly stretch of shore in a beach hut by the sea, there lived
a black cat, a white dog, and a little gray mouse.”

(Click to enlarge)

The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books once described one of Mini Grey’s picture books as “expectation-busting.” I love that, because, first of all, don’t you get weary sometimes of the descriptors used for many picture books? Maybe I read too many reviews, but there’s “whimsical,” “quirky,” and “sweet,” to name a few. Yes, they’re necessary, and you gotta call it like it is, but “expectation-busting”? Right on. Breath of fresh air. It’s also great, ’cause it’s generally true for Mini’s work. (Many of her books—think about it—also usually deal, in one way or another, with death, though they’re never macabre.) Her latest title, Three By the Sea (click the cover to the left to supersize it)—released by Knopf in April, though originally published in Great Britain in 2010—is Mini doing what she does best: Funny, sly, thought-provoking. And she, once again, cracks some of those expectations wide open. That’s for sure.

You see, I thought the story was going one way and telling me one thing, and then it threw me for a loop. I like this. Oh, right. Brief synopsis first, an illustrated synopsis:

“On a pebbly stretch of shore in a beach hut by the sea, there lived a black cat, a white dog, and a little gray mouse.” This trio has their routines down pat: Dog takes care of the garden; the cat, the housework; and the mouse, the cooking. And they were happy. Well, they thought they were.

“The cat took care of the housework.”
(Click to enlarge)

“The mouse looked after the cooking. And they lived happily. Or so they thought.”
(Click to enlarge)

One night, a Stranger—a fox deposited on the shore line—shows up. Here’s where we first see him, on the book’s title page:

(Click to enlarge)

If you look closely at his briefcase, he works for Winds of Change. Furthermore, after inviting himself in, he explains that the three of them were the lucky winners of a free visit from the Winds of Change Trading Company. “He explained that if you felt strangely discontented, or wondered if your life was missing a special Something, then Winds of Change was the company for you. And, of course, everything was ABSOLUTELY FREE.” Slowly, the Stranger works his charms on the animals, convincing them that things could be better. Perhaps they were all just putting up with nonsense from their roommates. For instance, Mouse makes fondue every night, the Stranger points out to Cat, insinuating that consistently cheesy meals must get old, and he follows that up with some free gifts from the suitcase:

(Click to enlarge)

After a while, Mouse—deciding he’ll run away and travel to where he may be appreciated already—almost drowns at sea, but Cat saves him. Or, er, tries to. But no worries: Dog appears and saves them all. And that’s ’cause, even when your roommates get on your last flippin’ nerve, you still save them from the watery darkness.

“That night while Cat and Dog were trying to sleep, Mouse was packing his things, planning to travel to somewhere where his cooking was appreciated.”
(Click to enlarge)

“At about midnight the cat woke with a lurch and a sinking feeling that something was wrong. She walked along the seafront. On the pebbles was a bundle of things—the sort of things that belonged to Mouse. Through the roar of the sea her keen ears heard a desperate faraway squeak.”
(Click to enlarge)

“Dog was a good swimmer, good enough for all three of them.
Dog carried them all to safety on the shore.”

(Click to enlarge)

When they return, the Stranger is gone and has left some seeds. And, subsequently, their lives change for the better. The menu gets a bit more experimental; the animals switch up their daily chores; and they begin to cultivate their new gardens. “Grey’s wonderfully expressive, richly textured mixed-media collages leap and bound with funny details,” writes Kirkus, adding that “{v}ivacious design elements such as comic-strip–like panels for action sequences and cut strips of type for the dialogue in the climactic fight add further fun.”

Where I thought this was heading? The pernicious nature of advertising to make us feel inadequate about our lives. Could you still read it that way? Sure. But is it possible the Stranger merely did them a favor, put a kick in the step of their humdrum lives and routines? Yup. This is Mini Grey we’re talkin’ here: She gives child readers enough respect for them to ponder it on their own and come to their own decisions. Here’s what Mini had to say about it when I asked her if she could pretty please share some illustrations this morning:

It’s a funny (strange) sort of story. I was thinking about a mismatched sort of family of a white dog, a black cat, and a little grey mouse, who live together in a beach hut. Traditionally, dogs, cats, and mice are supposed to be sworn enemies, but these ones don’t know that. They all have their own jobs to do and live happily together — until a stranger blows in one night and disrupts their comfortable existence. They look again at their household set-up and start to find it wanting. Seeds of discontent have been sown.

After a blazing row, everyone has an uncomfortable night (except the Stranger). Mouse storms off, but is swept into the sea. I wanted the pictures of their life on the beach to be full of space and light and breeze. (And pebbles.) As the story goes on, the pictures get more fragmented. I’m not sure myself about that mysterious stranger — he’s not really bad or good, more a sort of whiff of discontentment and instigator of change.

Here are some peeks into Mini’s sketchbook. (Click each to enlarge.) I thank her for sharing this morning:

THREE BY THE SEA. Copyright © 2010 by Mini Grey. First American Edition © 2011. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Ms. Grey.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you.

* * * * * * *

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to everyone. If I were organized, I’d have Mother’s Day art, but I welcome Mini Grey with glee any day.

1) I turned 39 this week and was reminded what a lucky person I am to have such kind family and friends in my life.

2) This birthday greeting from Elbow (one of Best Most Favorite If-You-Have-Something-Negative-to-Say-About-Them-Please-Say-It-Behind-My-Back Bands) CRACKED ME UP. I am not sure how it is I received this. I don’t recall ever entering my birthday information into any sort of Elbow website. But I’ll take Guy Garvey’s brooding-yet-sort-of-slightly-bemused birthday greeting any ‘ol time.

Wait. I was supposed to say that we’re best buds and those guys sent that right before they called me up to go play some pool with them ’cause they wanted to buy me a beer for my birthday. Yup. That’s what I meant. We’re like THIS, me and those lads.

3) I got peanut butter cake and this, ’cause I’m a ginormous nerd.

4) All this linky goodness:

  • This from Polly Dunbar
  • This from The Guardian
  • This on Helen Oxenbury
  • This excellent post, which is also dangerous for my already-toppling to-be-read pile, from Zoe at Playing By the Book
  • And last, but far from least, this lovely wisdom at the Horn Book. (Best part: “‎The read-aloud experience should be so extraordinary that practically as soon as the book is closed, everyone just wants to open it up and do it again. It is a simple circle — if the adult reading the story loves the story, that adult will love reading it aloud, and because he or she is having such a positive experience, the child experiences love for the story, and by extension, love for the person reading it. And when this happens, a space is created — a holy space, if you will — where the book, the child, and the adult are under a spell together. It may be a quiet, dramatic, or wildly raucous spell, but it is a spell nonetheless.”)

5) “The Suitcase.” Episode 7, Season 4 of Mad Men. One hour of compelling television.

6) I heart Delta Spirit. And this song. (“I’ll give you my love, but it won’t be true.” Well, now.)

Also, here’s my friend Natasha, performing live last week (in Georgia, I believe it was), and her gorgeous voice:

7) Poetry Night in my seven-year-old’s classroom this week.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

21 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #218: Featuring Mini Grey”

  1. Belated happy birthday wishes to you Julie. If you don’t already know about it, perhaps my birthday present to you can be the information that Guy Garvey has his own radio show on the fantastic radio 6 – a digital radio station from the BBC, which you’ll be able to listen to via the internet. Here’s the link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0072q60
    And of course, thanks too for mentioning my post. Another birthday wish from me to you is enough time to enjoy some of the books on your TBR pile!

  2. Happy belated birthday, Jules! Today’s my mom’s 60th birthday (and Mother’s Day to boot)!

    Love, love, love Mini Grey’s books (those sketchbooks rule)!

    My kicks:
    1. NYC — Children’s Choice Book Awards
    2. Great screening at Scholastic’s auditorium
    3. Got a promotion at my day job
    4. Finished a picture-book manuscript
    5. Started looking in earnest for an agent
    6. An actual date with my wife (sans child)
    7. And a prose poem recalling winter here in RI:

    The Money Bin in Winter
    by Steven Withrow

    After shoveling last night’s snow, and tromping up the driveway with the morning mail, I picture Scrooge McDuck, as Carl Barks once drew him, swan-diving, in swim trunks, like a cartoon gannet heady with rapacious glee, deep into an ocean of cold coinage. Maybe I’m wired wrong, but it occurs to me a grown man might sink headfirst in so much snow, leaving just his boots behind, for a sled dog or the Beagle Boys to uncover. Does he surface, or does he emerge, bootless, in some senses-vexing wonder-space? Curious, I toss bills aside and start to take a running leap. When, off the low, chill wind, comes the halting, brontosaur crunch of a plow truck pressing its heavy claim on the freshly minted street. Noon sun. Noon wind, painting ripples on the bare places where it passes. Is it midnight now in Duckburg? I see Uncle Scrooge, on his back, adrift on the swelling Fort Knox tide. I think. How it’s all, too real, it’s all, too real, it’s all too real for words.

    ©2011 Steven Withrow, all rights reserved

  3. Mini Grey: Thank you for sharing some pages of your sketchbook. Very cool. :o)

    Jules: Happy Belated Birthday! I am so glad you had a good one. You totally deserved it.

  4. And again my comment was cut off!

    Anyway, I got cut off while giving Jules some hearts:

  5. Okaaayyyy, I give up. :o(

  6. Tarie, I feel your pain. It happened to me as well.

  7. Ladies, I’m sorry! I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll go check the spam thingy, and if I see them there, I’ll release the hounds!

    More later….

  8. Am trying again. I love the Mini Grey book, tose characters are delightful and made me smile.
    Jules, I hope your bday was fantastical and by the sounds of it, it was. Love the poetry night with your daughter.
    Steven, congrats on te job promotion and bring done w/ picture book.
    Tarie, I do hope all is well, saw on te news that the Phillipines have been hit with protesting over OBL’s death.
    My kicks:
    1. Won a book at Jama’s blog, Woot!
    2. Got some great feedback on my WIP from the person I won a critique with. Just the shot in the arm needed.
    3. Time to work on the WIP this weekend.
    4. Began a lunch bunch book club at school for May. Have 15 kids.
    5. Got some great responses from poetry post card recipients.
    6. Finally getting warm enough for sandals.
    7. Remebering my mom today.
    Have a great week.

  9. Happy Mother’s Day to all celebrating, and happy belated birthday to Jules! How was Poetry Night? Kudos to Natasha. Beautiful sound from that guitar. Hurrah for the music and the greetings. 🙂

    Good morning, Mimi! I will have to track down Three by the Sea. Being described as “quirky” + the inclusion of a cat = I must find it. Thanks for letting us peek inside your sketchbook!

    Steven: Happy birthday to your mom, and congrats on your many accomplishments! Sounds like a very exciting week.

    Jone: YAY for the lunch bunch book club! What is/was your first book selection? Enjoy the poetry, the memories, and the weather. Good luck with your work-in-progress.

    My kicks for the past week:
    1) The premiere of a movie I was in. It was livestreamed, so I was able to attend virtually. Like I said last night, I still can’t believe that was me up there on that screen! It’s a short film. If it goes to any film festivals or whatnot, I’ll let you all know.
    2) An audition that was fun and funny
    3) First day of a new film short shoot
    4) IMDb!
    5) Glimpses in another film screening, and two more screenings today
    6) Next week’s table reads
    7) Journeys

  10. LW, the book is The Heart of a Shepherd by local author, Rosanne Parry. She will join us in June for lunch.
    And look at you, racking up films…congrats someday we’ll all say we knew her when.

  11. Thanks, Jone! Kind of you to say that. 🙂 Good luck with the group. How cool to have the author present.

  12. The book this week looks lovely!

    Happy belated birthday and mother’s day, Jules!

    Congrats on finishing the book, Steven, and best wishes for finding the perfect agent.

    Jone, the lunchtime book club sounds cool. (it is getting the stage here that I think I need to swop to closed in shoes instead of sandals)

    Little Willow, your life sounds happily busy as always.

    1. A relaxing Easter at home
    2. And then camping in a national park a few hours from here for a relaxing and wonderful time with friends. Lots of bushwalking in beautiful bushland. I was disappointed in my quest to see an echidna (haven’t seen one since I was a child) but beautiful birds and kangaroos were good.
    3. Looking at the stars through binoculars and listenign to everyone make the same shocked sound at the number of stars that would appear in what seemed to be empty sky
    4. Sampling local wine, cheese, olives, new season apples and other yummy things
    5. Mother’s Day breakfast and dinner at our place yesterday, so nice to be able to have our familes just pop around
    6. A big work project is wrapping up, and is looking good. I had it reviewed and was worried I had made a mistake along the lines of 2+2=5 but fortunately all was well
    7. Listening to my niece talk away (constantly!) in her own language

  13. Woops, don’t know what happened there, please feel free to delete the extras Jules!

  14. Zoe, yes! I’ve heard about that before, but I’ll go exploring again. Thanks.

    Steven, LOVE that prose poem. And what good news all-around for you. Congrats on finishing the manuscript and the promotion!

    Tarie, thanks! And sorry again. I don’t know why 7-Imp is acting up today. There are imps inside 7-Imp. Being impish.

    Jone, I wish I could attend the lunch bunch book club.

    Little Willow, congrats on the movie! That is most excellent. And Poetry Night, to answer your question, was seven kinds of awesome.

    Emmaco, sorry the imps messed with you, too. So glad you had a relaxing Easter and get to see family so easily now. And, hey, I know what an echidna is, thanks to nonfiction god Steve Jenkins, whose books my 7-year-old ADORES. I bet your niece is a puddin’ head, isn’t she?

    Happy Mother’s Day to all…

  15. And thanks for the b’day wishes, you nice people.

  16. Jules,

    Happy Birthday…belatedly!

    Congratulations to…
    – Steve for completing his manuscript
    – Little Willow for the movie premiere
    – Jone for winning a book from Jama

    I had a really lovely Mother’s Day. Mike and I had dinner with our daughter and her husband yesterday evening. Sitting at the table next to us were one of my oldest, best, and funniest friends and her husband and son. We had a fabulous meal and great conversation.

  17. Thanks, Elaine! Happy Mother’s Day to you!

  18. Happy belated birthday, Jules. Last chance to use “late ’30s” as a generic term for your age. Hope it was wonderful.

    Steven, your day-job employer probably senses that you’re soon not going to need a day job and are realizing they’ll have to work harder to keep you around! Congrats on the promotion and your awesome creative pursuits.

    Little Willow, I can’t imagine how cool that must be to see yourself on the screen at a premiere. So nifty.

    emmaco, that camping sounds beyond epic. Just wow.

    Jone, amen to the joy of warmer weather…I’m hunting for my sandals this week.

    I wish I had my sh*t together to read and post kicks every week. Truth is, I didn’t feel thankful enough this winter…which means I should have been more methodical about thankfulness. Seven kicks is a great way to do that; to think about the little awesome things that make life worth living. A few of my recent ones:

    1) The Penderwicks. We’re almost done book two in a bedtime-reading marathon, and it’s so mellow and fun…like slipping into a warm bath. My girls love it, even though the older one has been through them multiple times already.
    2) Trails. I’ve been putting some time in on one of our local mountains, hiking up with a hoe so I can clean up and connect trails that have been neglected. Therapeutic, quiet and useful.
    3) The garden. Also work with a hoe, and getting hands dirty. Looking forward to seeing things growing and eventually wandering out there to collect goodies for supper.
    4) My music getting heard. Found out yesterday that members of our local symphony want to play my suite of songs for string quartet at a centennial celebration for one of our huge provincial parks this summer. Very excited.
    5) Bikes. The bicycle is the greatest invention ever. Watching our 3-year-old fly around on his is constant fear and joy.
    6) The Vancouver Canucks. I’m sure nobody here follows hockey, but “my” team hasn’t gone this far in the playoffs since 1994, just knocking off Nashville last night (sorry, Jules).
    7) Pub night. Tonight…gotta run.

  19. Jeremy, sorry to hear the kick vibe was low. When I have weeks like that, sometimes I’m honest about it, and sometimes I just find those seven kicks, and you’re right, it makes you feel a bit better.

    Congrats on the music kick! I wish I could hear it live. Looking forward to reading the new Penderwicks myself. I should read the first two with the girls.

  20. I love your blog! Have been following it for a a long time. I just started a book review blog that I am using with my undergrads who are taking my Children’s and adolescent Lit classes. It is at http://ustudentreviews.blogspot.com/

    Hope you’ll check it out!

  21. Hi, Todd. That link didn’t work. Can you try again? Thanks!

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