Gravett the Great

h1 May 26th, 2007 by jules

Remember last year’s wonderfully impish Wolves (the Cybils shortlister) by Emily Gravett? Well, this year she’s back with two titles. Rather, one of them — Orange Pear Apple Bear (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing) — was published last year, but we’re seeing the first American edition this month, and the other one — Monkey and Me (Macmillan Children’s Books) — was released in April in the U.K.

For these two titles, Gravett drops the dry humor and winks and nudges that permeate Wolves and, apparently, Meerkat Mail (a title from last year I’m still waiting to read) and brings us stories a bit more stripped down but just as charming as any of her other titles. I know “charming” is a bit cliché in book reviewing, but MY GOD, THE CHARM. The woman’s work just reeks charisma and buckets of child appeal. Does she possess some sort of supernatural power? Hmmm, I’m beginning to wonder. She is one of my top-five new favorite picture book illustrators. Thank heavens she showed up.

Orange Pear Apple Bear contains only the four words you see in the title — with a fifth word on the final page of the book. A friendly brown bear appears with a slight smile on the cover and title page, and he’s balancing a pear, an apple, and an orange. After giving each item a simple introduction (nothing more than its name, of course) — even managing to pack in some humor with the bear’s introduction in which he looks as if he could be saying, “ta da! Here I am!’ — Gravett starts mixing things up (“Apple, bear / Orange bear”; “Orange pear / Apple bear”), in the end having the bear consume each piece of fruit and topping it all off with a “There!” Only Gravett can make a play-on-words book about shapes, simple rhymes, sequencing, and color this much fun. I like this bit from an ’06 piece about Gravett at Guardian Unlimited:

It’s quite a feat to create a book for babies that isn’t boring for adults. Helen Oxenbury’s wordless picture books do it, and some of the Dr. Seuss titles also manage the quirky mix of words (Hop On Pop, and One Fish, Two Fish). But in a market replete with sheep saying “baaa” behind flaps, dull stuffed animals with petty complexes, or yet another board book detailing the parts of cars, Gravett’s newest book is as refreshing as a decent night’s sleep to already over-tired new parents who are attempting to do the right thing by reading to a baby. The idea came to her, she says, after reading Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves. The following morning she woke up with the four words Orange Pear Apple Bear circulating in her head . . .

Her black pen-and-ink watercolored illustrations possess the same loose, carefree style as her other titles, never cluttering, never complicating. Even the endpapers are brilliant in all their precision and simplicity. And the bear? He’s going to generate some laughs, what with his ability to become an apple, become a pear. Pretty suave. The Guardian Unlimited piece further states, “{children} will relish the sound of the words rolling round the tongue. Meanwhile, toddlers and children who are learning to read will enjoy the juxtapositions, and the bottom-heavy illustrations . . . And grown-ups will chortle.”

If you’re thinking, hmmm, good preschool story time choice, why, you’d be correct. Same goes for the monkey-see-monkey-do allure of her newest title, Monkey and Me. Each spread begins with the simple, unadorned, rhythmic “Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, We went to see, We went to see some . . .”, as we watch a playful, cheeky young girl — in her red-and-white striped shirt and red leggings and with her toy stuffed monkey always in hand — put her imagination to work becoming various and asundry animals. Young readers/listeners can predict what comes after the page turn (“PENGUINS!”, “KANGAROOS!”, etc.) by taking in Gravett’s energetic line drawings and taking guesses at the animals they’ll see by deciphering the girl’s moves. That’s about all there is to it, but take that rhythmic text and just try not to clap your hands or snap your fingers. Perfect read-aloud for the wee young. Perfect invitation to get up on their feet and become the animals themselves.

Eventually, the girl wears out (“Monkey . . . and . . . me, Monkey . . . and . . . me”), heading home for tea but falling asleep at the table. And, ending the book with a wink-wink, we see one of those monkeys we meet in the book sneak up next to her and lead all the animals in a parade of an exit on the final endpages. Gravett makes each page turn a delight (can’t you just hear the children shouting out the answers before each page turn?) with her detailed illustrations of the animals, all amped up in size and practically trying to walk (or fly) off the page. It’s almost exhilarating for children with her bold text and “!”s for the animals’ appearances.

When I read this in the Guardian piece — that Orange Pear Apple Bear is “{t}he perfect book to read aloud to babies, it’s all done without any of the standard tricks: the shiny surfaces, the squeaky noises” — that’s when I realized that this is Gravett’s allure. I think that can be said for Gravett’s work in general. She’s been creating picture books for about five or six years now; let’s hope for more to come.

* * * * * * *

{Orange Pear Apple Bear is a library copy; Monkey and Me is a personal copy, with thanks to Michele for helping get it in my hands} . . .

5 comments to “Gravett the Great”

  1. Nice review – now I wish I’d read it before I sent it to you !! (Still the library has a copy…)

  2. I love the book covers. Thanks for the recommendations. I’ll check these books out.

  3. Jules,

    I haven’t even seen the book, but I’ve been singing, “Monkey and me, monkey and me, we went to see…” ever since I read your review yesterday. Obviously, I put both books on order immediately.

  4. Adrienne & Vivian & Michele, you won’t regret it. They’re great books. Emily Gravett has gotten my attention, big-time. I think talent must just ooze out of her pores.

  5. […] not a librarian.” Harsh, huh? It was great fun. I decided to read Emily Gravett’s Monkey and Me and Go to Bed, Monster! by Natasha Wing and illustrated by Sylvie Kantorovitz, because they are two […]

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