Picture Book Review: The Pride That Goes Before
The Fall (and a coochie-coochie-coo cute crocodile)

h1 April 11th, 2007 by jules

I promise that I actually do have a stack of American picture books by American authors and illustrators here to review. Go, USA! and all that. But, with my growing interest in international authors and illustrators, I have to share just one more — this one by a French author and illustrator duo. Oh là là, indeed.

“Droll” seems to be an adjective appearing in a lot of my picture book reviews these days. So, yes, let’s just lay it all out on the table: I like droll. I do. This book is très droll. Very funny. Makes me laugh out loud. And here’s why: As Emilie Coulter put it so well, “French author-illustrator team Sylviane Donnio and Dorothée de Monfreid have perfectly captured the hubris of childhood” in this picture book, entitled I’d Really Like to Eat a Child (first American edition, 2007; Random House; translated by Leslie Martin). I love it. That’s right up there with Allard’s and Marshall’s (may he rest in peace) The Stupids Die in the name of great children’s book titles that draw the wee ones’ attention and that make overly nervous parents squirm. Anyway, yes, back to hubris. I have been around a lot of children in my adult life and now have two of my own, and this excessive pride is often the name of the game. It’s important and all, but when they’re so sure of themselves and then take that necessary but mighty fall, well . . . it’s priceless.

And just look at that cover. Amusing, huh? (And, hmmm . . . that loose cartoon style smacks a bit of Marshall, now that I really think about it). And we’ve got bright crimson red bananas all over the endpages, and then a mysterious, young girl on the title page who possesses a whole heapin’ wonderful dose of spunk and attitude. Then, the story begins, and we meet Achilles, the crocodile (yes, Achilles. Love that, too. As if you even have to wonder if he’s heading for some invulnerability here, for a big ‘ol fall, what with a name like that). He has bananas for breakfast every morning, and — as mothers are wont to do — she praises him while he eats every day: “What a big boy you are getting to be, my son! And how handsome! And what beautiful teeth you have!” And what does Achilles say to that? “True.”

But the next morning, Achilles refuses his bananas and says — you guessed it — “I’d really like to eat a child.” Too bad, his mama tells him in so many words (but with tremendous concern plastered all over her crocodile face). His father tries — but to no avail. Both parents join forces and make him a big ‘ol scrum-diddly-umptious chocolate cake — but also to no avail. Achilles’ repeated refrain is “Today, I’d really like to eat a child.” Mama and Papa moan and weep and worry. Their poor baby won’t eat.

Well, you know what happens when you don’t eat your breakfast, right? As Donnio points out, you begin to “feel strange and weak all over . . .” So, Achilles heads out for a nice swim. And this is when we come to the aforesaid and amusing moment of fatal retribution (well, okay, no worries: It’s not quite fatal). Needless to say probably, there’s a little girl there, playing at the riverbank by herself. “‘Yippee! Finally, I’m going to eat a child,’ Achilles whisphered to himself.” He bares his teeth in this hysterically small “raah!” (the girl, to begin with, being about three times his wee size), and — in a moment reminiscent to me of Jonathan Allen’s “I’m Not Cute!” (which Eisha reviewed here last year) — the girl goes completely berserk over what a stinkin’ cute punkin head Achilles is (I’m throwing in “punkin head” just for Michele!). And, speaking of the pride that goes before the fall, she grabs him by the tail and tickles him on his belly. Ouch.

Achilles’ pride might be shattered, but he heads home (and not without a grin, even after she throws him in the river after her Cute Quota’s apparently been filled. Ouch again. Snap, snap. She puts him in his place, yes sirree!), shouting, “Daddy, Mommy! Quick, give me some bananas! I have to grow bigger . . . BIG enough to eat a child!”

You gotta love it.

This is Donnio’s first book for the American audience, according to the Random House site. The same site also states that she started writing her first children’s book at the age of eight but stopped after about a twelve lines. However, she promised herself that she would try again when she grew up. “After studying public law and becoming the mother of three children, she has kept the promise she made to herself,” the site says. This title was originally published in 2004 in France under the title Je mangerais bien un enfant (aah, my high school French is coming back to me).

Dorothée de Monfreid also lives in France. Her cartoonesque illustrations here are simple, straight-up, no-nonsense (the setting barely changes), but she manages to bring a lot of the droll into play here with her earnest Achilles and doting reptilian parents. Even the final, back-cover illustration is a veritable hoot, what with Achilles’ acquiescent (finally), giddy grin while he willingly lugs around a huge banana.

Okay, upwards and onward then towards my stack of American picture books; in the meantime, I’ll keep my eye out for even more international authors and illustrators that are new to me.

Adieu! Jusqu’à notre prochaine recontre . . .

* * * * * * *

{my source: review copy — on the shelves 4/24/07}

8 comments to “Picture Book Review: The Pride That Goes Before
The Fall (and a coochie-coochie-coo cute crocodile)”

  1. Jules,

    Great review! This sounds like my kind of book. I like droll, too.

    Just want to let you and Eisha know that my Poem a Day #11 is for the two of you. It’s an acrostic.


  2. Looks like fun, I’ve got my feelers up for this one.

    I wouldn’t worry about not being so “rah rah USA”. It isn’t you, it’s the books, or rather it’s the publishing industry. I have this feeling — call it a hunch — that editors would be more adventurous if they could. I’ve seen a LOT of picture books this spring with a LOT of cute animals and the most drab stories. This can’t be the best of what’s out there.

    Looking forward to seeing what noteworthy things you’re finding these days.

  3. Oh, sweet envy. I’ve wanted this book for a very long time. You’re lucky to have gotten it.

  4. Elaine, that is so sweet! Thank you!

    I can’t wait to see this one either. Thanks, J.!

  5. For a great read-alike, check Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. The is my favorite book for younger children of all time. It not a cutesy coo. The crocodile really intends to eat a child but is thwarted at every turn by the other animals of the jungle. I love the sizzly ending and the dialogue.

  6. Thanks, Lindsey. Will do!

  7. […] of the world: Do unto others, or else! And WAIT! These books also bring to mind last year’s I’d Really Like to Eat a Child by Sylviane Donnio and illustrated by Dorothee de Monfried. The dark humor is something that, I […]

  8. […] written by Sylviane Donnio and published first here in the States by Random House in ‘07. (Here is my enthusiastic post about that […]

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