Two books about childhood fears - monsters and wolves in this case - which, at least on the surface, could not be more different.
I Am the Wolf...And Here I Come!
Gecko Press, board book, AUD $16.99
Translator: Penelope Todd
French edition: Je m'habille et...je te croque, l'ecole des loisirs, 1998
I Am the Wolf...And I Here I Come! is a chunky little board book, a solid brick of a thing. Just ten images (plus the front and back cover - more of that later), are enough to create a sharp, squeal-worthy finale. The images have a primitive feel, the wolf's grey fur wrapped in a ragged, rapid black line. There's an energy to the drawing that lends movement to the pages, and just a touch of texture in the solid blocky colour.
This is not a book that will appeal to every child - or perhaps more accurately - not every parent. Look beyond the brash colour palette, the simple narrative and sturdy pages however and you will discover a book built to thrill and delight.
I will admit to being a little freaked out by I Am the Wolf...And Here I Come! But on second and third and even fourth reading, I realise that the brash, cheeky style has great child appeal. Having boldly introduced himself on the first page the wolf immediately prepares for the day - or night - ahead.
This wolf is, frankly, something of a dandy, with his jaunty boxers and stripy socks. His red top suggests the connection with Little Red Riding Hood, before pulling on his big boots, a fetching hunter's hat, and finishing with a sinister long black coat. But each turn of the page (from bottom-to-top, not the usual right-to-left), build the repetition and reveal. We know that Mr Wolf is getting closer. The last page parents is certain to bring gasps and shivers in young readers, so this one is definitely best read on the lap of a parent.
I Am the Wolf...and Here I Come! is a funny, rowdy romp. The coup-de-grace actually comes in fact on the back page, which encourages the child to snap the book closed and keep the wolf inside. The physical aspect of this little book can't be underestimated.
I Am the Wolf allows a child to take control moments of anxiety and fear. For one, we can laugh at the wolf with all his fussy dressing. Don't we also get dressed just like this? The wolf mixes the strange with the familiar, and there's even an absurd element as he goes about his routine. But in the end a wolf is a wolf, and that daffy smile reveals some big teeth and a hungry mouth. So maybe we should be afraid. How to contain our fear? Quick - snap the book closed!
Tickle Monster, Édouard Manceau
Abrams Appleseed, 2015
Hbk, 32pp, 9781419717314, AUD $19.99
French Edition: Gros Cornichon, Éditions : Seuil jeunesse, 2014
Tickle Monster by Édouard Manceau takes a different path in putting fears to bed. You might say that Manceau's book deconstructs our fear of monsters, since that is exactly what the reader of this book does in a series of challenges thrown out to the monster. (The French title for the book is Gros Cornichon, which is perhaps also a play-on-words for cochon or 'pig'.) But whatever it's called, the aim of this book is to inspire fun and creativity.
What's brilliant about Tickle Monster is the way Manceau uses visual language to tell the story. With each provocation from the reader beginning If I...the answer is resolved by removing that part of the monster and turning into something else. So the work of challenging the monster is done with the eye, the imagination and by language. It's an active tussle that takes place with each turn of the page. And with each turn of the page, the monster reduces and is transformed into something both commonplace and extraordinary.
Once again simple drawing reveals a skilled design in the service of the story. The images and shapes look like paper collage - something a child can make with just scissors and coloured paper. The black pages suggest that this is a story for bedtime when fears can rise. Think of Bedtime For Frances by Russell Hoban and Garth Williams as a classic of the genre, but here the child or reader has greater agency and controls the outcome with a less parental intervention. The end result is that the sharp-toothed monster becomes a figure of fun, which the child can master. The wild-eyed beastie from page one looks a little less wild when we turn to the final spread.
And while we wave farewell to the monster, I am sure we will see a lot more of Édouard Manceau.
About the Illustrators
Édouard Manceau is a prolific illustrator and author with more than 100 titles to his name. Most of his books are for preschool children. His books have been published widely outside of France, including in Germany, Catalonia, Spain, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Korea, China, the United States and Canada.
Explaining his approach to making books, Manceau told L’Express: “I want (my readers) to be actors because to be a reader is to be an actor. Henry Miller said, in regard to clowns, ‘The clown is the poet in action, he himself is the story that he plays.” And so this is what I try to give to children. In playing, I feel we must play deeply.” All this is fully evident in Tickle Monster.
Bénédicte Guettier was born in Paris in 1962. In 1985 she obtained a ‘diplôme supérieur’ from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués, followed by two years at l'Ecole Supérieure d'Arts Graphiques. She works in illustration for numerous magazines and creating drawings, prints and posters. With great inventiveness he has written and illustrated over 250 books for young children. Bénédicte is also the creator of Trotro, a highly popular series recently adapted as a stage musical.