There is nothing as desirable as the last of a whole lot of things. It does not matter if it's the last for a day, month, season, year or possibly forever. We all understand how vital the remaining minutes of light before night comes are when something needs to be done outside. Is there anything more delicious than the final scoop of your favorite ice cream? The world is bathed in magic on full moon nights. It's hard to wait an entire month for the next one to appear. It could also be cloudy! The conclusion of summer vacation is bittersweet. It's full of wonderful memories but signals the end of a welcome season, and for many a return to a more restricted schedule.
When faced with a last item, the situation is more complicated when appreciation turns into desire and that desire is denied for a variety of reasons. The Last Peach (Roaring Brook Press, April 2, 2019) written and illustrated by Gus Gordon explores this dilemma with considerable insight. Two bugs find themselves debating multiple issues after their magnificent discovery.
Oh my, now THAT is a fine peach!
Yes, indeed, the finest!
After extolling the virtues of the peach, the bugs decide it must be eaten . . . immediately. When they are ordered to stop because it is the final fruit of the season, they pause with reluctance. This pause is short-lived. As they are about to consume the peach in earnest, another bug interrupts. It might only be good on the outside.
The duo reaches an alternative to full-blown consumption, but they talk themselves out of that approach. With their imaginations working overtime, they wonder about the magical qualities of the peach. They wonder if they should share the peach. They even suppose what the peach would say if it could speak.
Their musings proceed to over-the-top status when a poem is penned for the fruit. Quiet, respectful gazing at the peach by both suddenly turns into a bitter feud. Perhaps only one of them deserves the peach. As suddenly as the argument starts, it stops.
With the consistency of a swinging pendulum on a clock, the bugs' minds switch back to the beginning. The perfection of the peach outweighs any of their cravings. They bid it adieu. What?! What kind of ending is this? A page turn reveals a most hilarious turn of events.
Told entirely in dialogue author Gus Gordon spins a tale replete with some of life's biggest questions. Through the back-and-forth discourse of the two bugs we see them wrestling with possibilities. Humor plays a big part in their contemplations. Here is a passage.
It might be a magical peach! What if we ate it and could suddenly do magical things?
Hang on, we can already fly . . .
Everything about these two insects, when we first see them on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, depicts hilarious. Look at their bodies dressed in shirts with one wearing a hat. Notice their long noses, expressive body positions, and, dare I say it, bug-eyed looks. Their bodies and the text on the jacket are varnished.
To the left, on the back, a green from the foliage is used as the canvas. Within a small circle the duo is looking directly at readers. Their arms are lifted in greeting. On the opening and closing endpapers, artist Gus Gordon has illustrated in three rows of six, left to right, eighteen peaches. They appear lifelike and as if categorized in a botany catalog. They are gorgeous.
On the verso a red beetle (with seven legs) stops above the informational text and under the dedication. On the right, the last peach hangs from the top of the title page above the text. Rendered in predominantly collage, the illustrations, with the exception of two wordless, double-page pictures, are full-page visuals on the left. The narrative is placed on the right.
During their conversations, to emphasize pacing and emotional moments, the points of view shift from image to image. We are taken very close to the bugs; only seeing the upper portion of their bodies. We are then given a wider scene including branches, leaves, flowers and the peach. Readers will enjoy seeing other bugs come and go in the illustrations. One might be wearing a hat, a bow tie, eyeglasses or overalls. It's interesting to observe the red shirt of the one bug from picture to picture.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a wider perspective of the two bugs and the peach. Rounded, oval-shaped leaves frame the sides. Leaves and flowers stretch from the bottom of the page. That red beetle is crossing a large leaf along the bottom. Nearly in the center and extending from the left side is a long leaf. The companions are standing on it with their backs to us. Deep in a discussion, they look at the peach, a portion hanging down from the top.
It is easy to imagine the laughter resonating in the room when The Last Peach written and illustrated by Gus Gordon is either read silently by one or listened to by many during a storytime. Be sure to read it using voices. It invites creative drama either as a readers' theater or a puppet show. You'll want to have a copy of this on your personal and professional shelves especially for a theme on decisions, perspective or insects.
To discover more about Gus Gordon and his other work, please visit his website by following the link attached to his name. Gus Gordon maintains an account on Instagram. At the publisher's website you can view interior images. Gus Gordon is interviewed at Kids' Book Review, and Creative Kids Tales.