Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Terrifying Tale

There are not many things better than gathering around a campfire on a summer's night.  The only sounds, if you listen, are crickets chirping out calls, coyotes yipping in the distance or the occasional owl hoot.  You have either snagged one of the few chairs or you're one of several seated on a stump or a long log.  This is a first-class setting for a session of storytelling.  This is a night for scary stories; the scarier the better.

If the bugs are bothering you or a sudden rainstorm moves into the area, a tent with a lantern at its center is a cozy substitute.  You snuggle in your sleeping bag ready for a case of the shivers.  Big Bunny (Chronicle Books, March 20, 2018) written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins is a witty salute to humankind's grand oral tradition.

Once upon a time,
there was a BIG BUNNY.

A ginormously SCARY bunny?

In reply to this question the bunny is not ginormously scary but simply big.  He does not live on an oversized floating carrot as the listener suggests but on a regular planet like our Earth.  And the carrots growing on this celestial sphere are completely typical carrots.  None of them will be winning any carrot competitions for size.

The listener is getting discouraged at the ho-hum quality of the plot.  Are there going to be any scary parts?  No matter what the teller says, it's not even close to being scary.  Even the introduction of trucks, bridges and trucker penguins does not heighten the listener's interest until the teller gives up.  Now the roles are reversed.

The action kicks into high gear.  That Big Bunny consumes all the bridges and all the trucks and he is still hungry.  (He does not eat the penguins because giraffes driving buses help them escape to Florida.) He inhales all the buildings and he is still hungry.  At this point the first teller asks for a pause, saying all this hunger and eating is worrisome.  What the second teller says next will either have you laughing out loud or shaking in your proverbial boots.

We all know there will be times when what the teller tells and what the listener perceives are two entirely different things.  The intentions of the teller are necessary for consideration also.  Rowboat Watkins delivers a masterful example of these discrepancies in this title. The conversational exchange between the first voice and the second voice are absolutely spot-on and downright hilarious.  When the second voice takes over the narrative, you can feel the tension building toward something.  You're not sure what it is but this makes the twist even more delicious.  Here is a passage.

Not scary.
Without CHEWING!
Still not scary.
TWENTY carrots?
TWO HUNDRED carrots?

Looking at the unfolded dust jacket the reader can come to only one conclusion (well, maybe two).  This bunny is huge or the illustrator is playing with perception.  Look at that open mouth!  Look at those teeth!  There is nothing cute about that enormous nose.  To the left, on the back, our eyes are shocked by a fluffy tail taking up most of the space. 

The black background on the book case highlights the gazillion tiny carrots displayed.  The opening and closing endpapers are a visual contrast in point of view.  On the first against a blue sky peppered with white clouds are two large, very large, bunny ears, one on each side of the gutter.  Much smaller ears appear at the end against a nighttime sky.  On the title page the top of a large bunny head with ears, viewed from its back, frames the text.

Most of the images, pieced together with this & that, span two pages.  In this way, with shifts in perspective, Rowboat Watkins is able to depict the various storytelling techniques of the narrators.  Each picture welcomes study.  You need to look at all the details realizing their purpose.

One of my many favorite illustrations is across two pages.  The Big Bunny is lying on his side, his larger than large belly bloated from eating more carrots than you can imagine. His ears nearly touch the left side and his body with his feet extends over two-thirds of the right side.  His eyes are crossed in discomfort.  The trucks carrying all the carrots with a large carrot logo on their side are scattered about him like empty candy wrappers.  He has a truck in each paw and one rests on his stomach.  Peculiar noises are coming from his body.

If you want fun and funny all rolled into one singular story, Big Bunny written and illustrated by Rowboat Watkins is exactly what readers will want.  The pacing and humor are excellent.  This is certain to be a story time favorite.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Rowboat Watkins and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Rowboat maintains a Facebook page.  Rowboat is a guest at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  He has loads of process art for this title.  He was previously a guest at Elizabeth Dulemba's website.

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