Throw away all your preconceptions of what picture books for children should look like or what trajectory they should follow, because you’re in for a real treat! This title had me laughing out loud the further into the story I got, at first with a chuckle at the premise that Catherine should spend whatever she likes because she won’t be around long enough to have to deal with the debts she incurs from her irresponsible spending habits – she has a point – and then as we made our way along the story, irrepressible laughter at Catherine’s unflappable practicality and unapologetic personality. I was reminded of Ariana Grande’s 7 rings throughout the entire book, in the best of ways.
I happened upon this title recently and absolutely adored it (I was tempted to rip off a coworker’s Staff Pick sticker so I could put my own on it), for reasons I’m sure are obvious just looking at the cover: Le livre où la poule meurt à la fin by François Blais, illustrated by Valérie Boivin. I agree with this reviewer that the complete irreverence of the entire book towards the topic of death (normally treated as a taboo topic, though do take a look at how other authors have treated death in picture books) is actually quite refreshing, especially what with the bright colours used throughout and the flippant, very tongue-in-cheekily practical attitude Catherine – the chicken – herself has towards her fate.
Hilarious through and through, this alternate perspective on death and what one can do with the knowledge of our own impending doom is a complete delight. And if you’re into unexpected twists (it’s almost like a right-angle Freytag triangle of plot structure), you might also enjoy another book by the same author in the same grimace series: 752 lapins, same author & illustrator duo. There’s also this other review of both of these titles that I enjoyed especially for their discussion suggestions with the child if you’re reading to one.
Keep reading for more (slightly less audacious) French picture books!
Does it ever feel like there’s a constant pressure on to be happy and to only ever experience positive emotions? (Nevermind the fact that we divide up the emotions between positive & negative, thereby already biasing them to be thought of as either good or bad for you.)
Well here are some picture books that talk about (negative) emotions and acknowledge them as being part and parcel of being human (… strictly speaking, animal, since when they feature, the humans involved are not the ones experiencing the negative emotions). Some of them discuss how it’s perfectly OK to be experiencing these ups and downs, whereas others highlight what emotions such as fear and jealousy (or in this particular case, the selfish personality of the giraffe) hold you back from the possibility of experiencing things you could never have previously imagined.
Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang, illustrated by Max Lang, is great at portraying how sometimes our grumpiness can seem completely illogical: there’s nothing to be grumpy about, but you know what? We all wake up on the wrong side of the bed some days, and that’s alright! Having your friends there to be there for you, even if what they’re doing isn’t cheering you up per se, can be a boon to your emotional state. Grumpy Monkey yells at his friends, denying his grumpiness, but it’s when he actually accepts that yes, he just might be grumpy, and yes, his friends do still love & care for him, that he starts to feel a bit better.
May I introduce you to the inhabitants of our fruit bowl here that you’ll find in Fruit Bowl, by Mark Hoffmann: Apple, Peach, Banana, Lemon, Orange, Pear, Strawberry, Grapes, Lime, Blueberry, and Tomato. Wait – tomato? Slightly creepy (just look at those faces) but ever so adorable (in that “it’s weird but I love it” kind of way) – complete with arguably some of the best puns of all time in children’s fiction – Tomato makes his case to the fruit bowl denizens that tomatoes are, indeed, a fruit. But why stop there? It’s not just tomatoes! A whole lineup of other unlikely fruits gravitate in line to the fruit bowl from the crisper in the fridge, finally gaining the ability to be recognized for what they truly are. Read it to find out what else belongs in the fruit bowl!
A delightful read, though I have to admit with a somewhat ambiguous takeaway; is Hoffmann just tackling the issue of what makes a fruit a fruit, or are we actually talking about in-groups and out-groups? Also, why are vegetables presented as being lesser than fruits? Why does everyone want to be a fruit? Or do they just want to be recognized for who/what they really are? I’m also interested in why Tomato is male, because do tomatoes (the fruit) even have sexes?*, but that might be a discussion for another time – I absolutely adored this book from beginning to end, literally cover to cover.