Fuse #8

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Review of the Day: The Shivers In the Fridge

The Shivers In the Fridge by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Paul Zelinsky. Dutton. $13.50

When I think of Paul Zelinsky I think of shiny gold thread spun onto spindles, thick lustrous hair cascading down a tower’s wall, and maybe even a glimpse of early Americana involving a certain tall tale. Basically, Zelinsky’s a picture book chameleon. You never know exactly what kind of style is going to erupt from his pen next. In 2006 he pulled that magnificent Emily Jenkins book, “Toys Go Out” out of his bag. This was soon followed up by “The Shivers In the Fridge”, and is a colorful unexpected style and story. Author Fran Manushkin has quite a few books under her belt already, but I daresay that aside from the George Foreman picture book she helped out on, this may well be her best-known work yet. Good thing too, as the story is a rather engaging romp through iceboxes both cold and mysterious.

Something isn’t right but the Shivers family can’t quite put their finger on what it is. Sonny, his mom and dad, and Grandma and Grandpa have been living in a perpetually cold and dark space for quite a while, and they’re having a hard time remembering what it’s like to be warm. This soon becomes the least of their concerns, however, when unexpectedly and without warning, an enormous hand keeps appearing out of nowhere to snatch various family members away. First Papa disappears when scaling Buttery Cliff. Later Mama meets a similar fate when she takes a warm dip in the fast solidifying “Emerald Lake”. By the end, only Sonny is left. Gathering his courage, the young ‘un is snatched out of the cold ... to find his family members are all safe and warm. The Shivers are actually refrigerator magnets, and now they get to do what magnets do best. Stay on the outside of the fridge.

A good thing they never had to deal with mold, eh? Now I’m gonna level with you here. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book and a great little story, but I’ve a quibble with the art. I know, I know. Criticizing a Paul O. Zelinsky production is tantamount to criticizing Picasso in his blue period. Zelinsky’s meticulous attention to detail is legendary. The man has what it takes to bring everything from classic storytime singalongs to animated stuffed animals to rich, vibrant life. I can’t continue, then, unless I confess something to you. You know his early work? I’m not talking his “Dear Mr. Henshaw”/”Strider” period, but the “Rapunzel”/”Rumplestiltskin” era. THAT, to me, was his best work. I loved watching the man replicate the style of the old masters. Oh sure, I could appreciate his cross-hatching pen-and-ink style too, but give that man a set of oils and watch what he can do with them. Whoof! “The Wheels On the Bus” always kinda stuck in my craw. Obviously if you’ve Zelinsky’s talent, you’re not going to imbue everything you illustrate with the same style. In the case of “The Shivers In the Fridge”, Zelinsky creates a world both familiar and unfamiliar to children. His colors are bright, cheery, and constantly appealing to the old eyeballs. So what’s my petty objection? Am I going to whine and moan over the fact that, in this particular case, Zelinsky has selected a style of drawing that does not appeal to me in the least? Yes. Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer my fate. Simply take a glance at the cover and ascertain whether or not it pleases you. Either A) The cover is hunky-dory/cute as a bug’s ear and I’m a raving loon or B) You can see my point of view, but I’m obviously thinking too much about a picture book or C) You agree with me entirely and hang on my every word. Whatever your choice, I would like to assure you that Zelinsky has by no means dropped the ball on this book. He seems to have put just as much work into it as any other title in his oeuvre. It's just not my bag, baby.

The melding of text and image is, in this case, seamless. Even if the characters in the book are clueless as to their surroundings, child readers will pick up on what’s happening immediately (if not being entirely certain as to what The Shivers really are). It’s here that Manushkin’s writing stands out. First of all, there’s something great about the fact that the character of Grandma is a nasty, negative, perpetually sour old coot. She can't stop moaning and groaning about any and everything. Dull authors make all their characters indistinguishable and nothing grabs a child reader properly like a little character conflict. Just put an antagonist into your story like Grandma and watch the child to book interest ratio increase respectively. As professional reviews have noted, the humor in the story cancels out any vague fears your preschooler might have about the tale. Best of all, Manushkin taps into a love that all kids can get behind: Living in a world of gigantic food. How cool (no pun intended) is that?

I do not recommend that you read this book in the frigid months of winter, by the way. Just glancing through the book myself I found myself shivering right along with the family in the fridge. No, this would be a title better suited for those hot and lazy summer months. Pull this puppy out when the high heat of July renders children limp and prepped for a good cold-weather story or two. As tales about refrigerator magnets go, I just can’t think of another book that speaks to their plight quite as eloquently as this. Here’s hoping that in the sequel The Shivers do battle with a home computer. Fun fun fun.

For those of you with an additional interest, Mr. Zelinsky recently sent the following information out:

Hello, friends

This is a small announcement but it's big to me, because after a huge long time of thinking about it and doing something about it with the help of others, and fiddling with the results, I finally finished and posted online my little animations that go with the new picture book "The Shivers in the Fridge" by Fran Manushkin.They were great fun to do, and the none-too-simple program I used, Adobe After Effects, was fun to scratch the surface of.Please take a look: go to http://www.paulozelinsky.com/shivers.html and click on the links to the animations: the bigger ones if you have broadband, smaller if you don't.
All best,


At 9:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been very disturbed by my great dislike for this book and have avoided reviewing it on our blog, 'cause, well, it's Zelinsky, dude. But, the first problem is the faulty premise; the magnets, living on the front of the fridge as they usually do, would know who those people were and wouldn't be so confused and consider them monsters (or strangers or however it was put). Secondly, I didn't care for the art either; like you, I know Zelinsky, whose previous work I lurv dearly, put his usual meticulous care into it, but it just bores me. Usually, he wows me. I have tried and tried and just can't like this book. I think it's one of the weirdest books I've seen all year.

At 11:09 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

(B) is a trick option. There is no such thing as "thinking too much about a picture book."

At 1:22 PM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Oh good. I couldn't really pinpoint what my own objection to the story was. Honestly, I had more a problem with the pictures than the tale itself. At least we have "Toys Go Out" to fall back on this year.

Good call on option (B), by the way. I was hoping someone would say that.

At 8:32 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to see so many people didn't like this book. I know since it's been around a while it's pretty much pointless to comment on it. However, in defense of this very entertaining book, I read it to my first-graders every year, and they love it so much they want me to reread it. Also children view illustrations so differently than adults do that they let their imaginations fill in some of the things that adults may find lacking or unpleasant in the pictures. I also think that these young students like getting the verification at the end of the book that their guesses about what's been going on with the Shivers were correct.


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