CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 20 . . . . May 30, 2008
Breaking the pattern he has established with the majority of his previous picturebooks e.g.,Ten Old Men and a Mouse, My New Shirt, Market Wedding, Toronto author Cary Fagan does not touch on themes of Jewish culture or tradition in his newest picturebook, Thing-Thing. Fortunately for his readers, though, Fagan's latest creative offering is quite in keeping with his pattern of telling stories which zoom in on simple everyday occurrences to illuminate each small facet of a relatively ordinary event in extraordinary joyful detail.
Popping with Fagan's usual lighthearted humour and characters who manage to somehow be at once off-the-wall and true-to-life, Thing-Thing is the story of a stuffed animal that is "Not quite a bunny rabbit, but not quite a dog either, nor a bear, or cat for that matter." It is a "Thing-Thing," haplessly destined – but not for long! – for the ungrateful arms of spoiled birthday boy Archibald Crimp. The young Master Crimp is so spoiled, in fact, that he tosses the unsatisfactory gift out the window of the fancy Excelsior Hotel to which parents have brought him for a special birthday trip – and so begins Thing-Thing's slow motion six-storey descent to meet his (much happier) fate.
Thing-Thing, our thinking, feeling, indefinable plush hero, sees and is seen quite a lot on his journey downward; each floor he passes offers up its own charming story. Most charming of all, though, is Thing-Thing, himself, who despite the, well, “gravity” of his situation, never fails to look on the bright side! In the end, his optimism is rewarded, and Thing-Thing finds himself cuddled in the arms of a tender and affectionate little baby – while the most unamiable Archibald finds himself, quite justly, not being indulged with yet more birthday presents but forced outside for some good old-fashioned fresh air.
Nicolas Debon's winsome illustrations, done in gouache on Arches watercolour paper, are true to the style that has become his trademark in his other, highly successful, endeavours as an illustrator and author-illustrator. Debon's illustrations for Thing-Thing are similar to those he created for Dominique Demers' Tous les soirs du monde (Every Single Night), and for his own The Strongest Man in the World: Louis Cyr and Four Pictures by Emily Carr – simple, almost one-dimensional figures with limited but well-chosen shading in settings which twinkle with special details sprinkled here and there. However, Debon's style for Thing-Thing does differ slightly from that of his past work, and the somewhat cartoonish nature of the images he has created for Thing-Thing demonstrate the artist's sensitivity to the mood of Cary Fagan's humorous text. From the telltale lipstick traces on the cheek of the young lover down on bended knee on the second floor, down to the names of the newspapers and the Maple Leafs jersey for sale which we can pick out in the hotel lobby's souvenir kiosk, Debon brings the Excelsior Hotel to life with plenty of colour and zest. Especially apt to the story are his spinning, dizzying, bird's-eye-view portrayals of Thing-Thing's spiral down to the ground, complete with white "whooshing" lines indicating the frightening speed of poor Thing-Thing's fall! Also bearing mention is the refreshingly inclusive nature of Debon's pictures which depict a vibrant, modern city peopled with folk of all kinds and colours.
Thing-Thing is a very visually-appealing book whose bright colours and interesting perspectives draw readers in from its first pages (not to mention its cover), while the delightful tale it tells will surely please both children and adult readers. In Thing-Thing, Fagan and Debon have given readers a book which shows that, no matter how badly things may start out, sometimes they end up just right.
Tara Williston is a student in the Master's of Library and Information Studies program at the University of British Columbia, soon to be working (she hopes!) as a Children's Librarian.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.