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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
written and illustrated by Wallace Edwards
Kids Can Press (paperback edition),(July 2008)
Even in a serious meeting, Professor Apeson sensed there might be monkey business going on.
When he was on the ball, there was no limit to what King Pigglebottom could do.
It was cold and wet outside, but Gavin felt snug as a bug in a rug.
--Monkey Business by Wallace Edwards, p. 1-3.
Gorgeous art and a playfulness with idioms (expressions whose meaning can't be understood from the individual words) make this a fun, playful book.
In Monkey Business, popular expressions are literally translated in the illustrations, depicting them the way a young child or someone new to the English language might understand the expressions, making this a silly, fun book with great appeal to people who love words.
Children (and adults) will chuckle at the silliness of the characters and the literal translations of the expressions, as they see Phil the dog playing a violin with his ears ("he l earned to play by ear") and Quentin the penguin, flying up off a teeter totter to serve glasses of wine to two giraffes getting married (he rose to the occasion). Each expression is made more interesting by having an animal character named and taking part in the expression. The animal characters are humanized through acting or dressing like humans.
Edwards (Alphabeasts, The Extinct Files: My Science Project)clearly had fun with the characters' names, tying many of them in to the type of animal they are (Professor Apeson, who's an ape; King Pigglebottom, who's a pig; Camellia, who's a chameleon). I would have preferred one character throughout all the text and illustrations--a main character--to bring greater continuity. Still, multiple animals bring visual diversity, and the linking material is the idiom.
There's an added bonus for curious readers (or for parents wanting their child to learn something)--all the idioms used in the book are listed at the back with explanations as to what they really mean.
Edwards's watercolor, colored pencil, and gouche illustrations really make this book work; they are beautifully rendered, creative interpretations of the expressions. Some of my favorites are the crocodile eating her words by pulling books off the shelf into her open mouth, and the lucky duck who actually ducks to miss a flying ice cream cone. Edwards's illustrations are realistic and intricate, bursting with details to pore over. Some illustrations almost feel cluttered with detail. Elaborate settings place each character in a particular environment.
Observant readers will have great fun finding the monkey hidden in each illustration, as well as some of the other "hidden" images, such as the sheep clouds and sheep patches that appear in the wolf in sheep's clothing illustration, and the fish hidden in the greenery in the fish out of water illustration. The hidden images add to the amusement level of the book.
Edwards's illustrations have a slightly old-fashioned feel, increased by the muted palette, the old-fashioned toys that appear in various guises in many illustrations (on wallpaper, on the moose's head) and the ornate furniture and setting details. The illustrations may feel slightly creepy to some readers.
Edwards pays an incredible attention to detail, showing even the texture of the skin of an animal, design elements within furniture, and much more. Great use of pattern and shadow enrich the illustrations. Varied colors are used, with a lot of recurring yellows, browns, and greys, bringing a slightly muted feeling. Each illustration fills most of one page, contained within a bordered rectangle, the text typed below.
The illustrations and text are dependent on each other; neither would be so funny if they stood on their own. Together, they are the perfect match.
Monkey Business is a book that both children and adults will enjoy. It will especially appeal to people who love words and language, to budding (or established) writers, and to intelligent, inquisitive readers.
-Added June 26, 2008
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