Fuse #8

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Review of the Day: Shark and Lobster's Amazing Undersea Adventure

I know that Book Buds already reviewed this puppy, but until I finish reading my current novel, I'm down to posting about picture books. Fortunately, this one's a hoot.

You take Viviane Schwarz and you add her to her partner in crime Joel Stewart and things happen. Craaaazy things happen. Crazy mildly disturbing things, but with enough goofiness to allow the duo their place at the children’s literature table. If the innate surrealism of writing “The Adventures of a Nose” together wasn’t enough for them, now they’re back with “Shark and Lobster’s Amazing Undersea Adventures”. The entire book feels like someone picked up a picture book, found the format dull, and decided to shake things up a bit. Okay, maybe more than a bit. A LOT. Charming and wacked out all at once, this is undoubtedly one of the more eclectic titles of the 2006 publishing year. Like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Shark has a confession to make to his best friend, Lobster. Maybe shark is big and scary with lots of sharp teeth, but do you know what he fears more than anything else in the world? Tigers. Now no one else under the ocean has even necessarily heard of tigers, but what shark says about them is enough to give ‘em all the heebie jeebies right quick. After some fast thinking the underwater denizens set about building a protective fort. When that turns out not to be enough, though, they enlist the unknowing help of a sleeping monster. The monster, however, finds itself a little put-out regarding the role it’s supposed to play and after some thrilling chase sequences the it returns to the briny deep. As for shark and lobster, they decide that tigers aren’t anything to be afraid of and all is well in the end.

Now the book is one of those rare horizontal formats. You know what I mean. The kind of thing where you read the story with the book on its side, up to down rather than side to side. Other books have done this in the past of course. I think the best known was probably “Tops and Bottoms” by Janet Stevens (and IT won a Caldecott Honor). Inevitably the reader has to ask if this was a necessary way of presenting the book. I mean, is the author/artist just doing this for kicks or do they have a real reason for wanting elongated pages? “Shark and Lobster” definitely justifies the format, to my mind. The first full spread, after all, shows shark floating frightened in a beautiful blue sea. If a kid can look at this image and comprehend what’s going on then you’ve no need to fear for the rest of the book.

I began this review by talking about how weird this book was, and you might have gotten a small sense of that from my discussion of Shark’s fear of tigers (finned tigers!) or the fact that you read the book from top to bottom. But those weren’t really the weird parts. Remember when I mentioned that Shark and Lobster decide that the only thing to do is find a monster to help them prevent the onslaught of tigers? Allow me to describe this monster to you a little more fully. It has seven eyes, a light at the tip of its tail (on a lantern), what looks like butterfly wings, some tentacles, two arms (wrists akimbo) sticking out of the top of its skull, and freakiest of all, hundreds of high-heel wearing women’s legs. Hundreds. Oh... and a forked nose. She’d be cute if she wasn’t quite so DADA. Time and again, the legs are what stop people when they stare at this book. I’ve never really seen anything quite like them in a children's title before. Monsters come and monsters go, but few look as if they’ve spent their spare hours modeling for Dali on the side. I, personally, think the monster is heavenly, but I guess I could see how some middle-of-the-road people would be seriously weirded out by her appearance. In short, consider handing this book to a kid with easygoing parents. Those of an uptight nature may find monster-dear just a tad off-putting.

With this book, Ms. Schwarz does the writing and drawing and her husband is relegated to coloring only. There’s quite a bit of hand-lettering and some illustrations are drawn in ink, but color-wise this puppy’s been digitally filled in. And that’s all right. It’s not your mother’s picture book and it doesn’t want to be. Instead it’s goofy, and sweet, and will end up being one of those books that plague librarians in future years. Example: “Uh, hi. Do you remember a picture book, it came out in the early 2000s, and it had some ocean stuff with a shark. And there was a monster too, I think. And... and okay, I know this sounds crazy, but I think there were tigers? Does that sound right?” I don’t envy those future librarians. I do, however, hope lots of kids grow to read and love this interesting English import in all its goofy little glory.

Oh. And I've grown rather attached to Ms. Schwarz's blog too. She's British, as it happens. Spells words funny like "favourite". And since I've never run across a British children's author blogger, I may or may not be adding her to my blogroll. What do you guys think?


At 9:03 PM , Blogger Stephanie Roth Sisson said...

Wonderful, wonderful book!

At 9:12 PM , Blogger Stephanie Roth Sisson said...

ps. Joel is NOT her husband. They did go to school together and are friends now. Joel is also very talented - see his Black Carrot Secret Diary on blogspot.

At 10:07 AM , Blogger Bkbuds said...

Many thanks for the link. I see Ms. Schwarz links back to you too.

There must be something in the water over there in Britain. Mini Grey has that same over-the-top wackiness.


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