September 16, 2010
Many picture books are what I call “concept” books, in which the author spins a tale around a specific childhood issue—say, anger over a sense of powerlessness (Where the Wild Things Are, and many others), or the anxiety of the first day of school (The Teacher From the Black Lagoon…and many others). The very best ones use the concept as an imaginative jumping-off point, successfully treating their subjects without harping on them too much.
Well, allow me to nominate a newish classic in the well-established “monsters under the bed” category: Jumpy Jack & Googily, written by Meg Rosoff and illustrated by the marvelous Sophie Blackall. (I clearly have a thing for illustrators who come from Australia.) Jumpy Jack is a snail, and his name suits him—he’s a nervous type, constantly worried that fearsome things may be lurking behind and under such ominous things as doors, tables, and beds.
But Jack doesn’t freak out about his fears—he simply asks his best friend, an agreeable large, pointy-toothed fellow named Googily, to investigate these potentially dangerous places for him and reassure him his worries are unwarranted. When Googily inevitably responds that his friend is very silly to worry about these things, Jack sheepishly agrees, but says he’ll feel better if Googily checks them out anyway. And he’s right; it works every time ("Phew!"), despite the reader’s growing realization that the monster Jack describes as the object of his terror has a close resemblance to Googily himself. (This sounds like it might lead to a scary moment of realization for poor Jack, but the ending goes in a different direction, turning the tables by revealing what Googily is afraid of.)
Rosoff’s clever path through each iteration is truly endearing, mainly due to the polite respect the two friends have for each other; in just a few pages, she establishes a fully fleshed-out relationship reminiscent of classic children’s-book pairs like Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad. (Googily: “That is simply too far-fetched.” Jack: “No doubt.... Still, if you would only check, I’m sure I would sleep better.”) And Blackall’s beautiful, eccentric art matches the text’s kindly whimsical tone precisely—this is the kind of picture book where you’re surprised to find that the author and illustrator are not the same person.
Upon arrival in our home, Jumpy Jack & Googily immediately joined the short list of Dash’s very favorite picture books, and it’s also among those that Whitney and I love to read aloud to him—the voices of the characters are so strong, and the light humor makes it so much fun to read. I would place it among our favorite five or six books that have been published during our kids’ lifetimes. (Hmm…I feel a future list post coming on....) In fact, I’m earnestly hoping our two-year-old soon likes it just as much as Dash did, so we get to read it regularly for years to come!
[Photos: Whitney Webster]