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A True Story

by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Frané Lessac

Age Range: 7 - 9

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-7636-6155-7
Publisher: Candlewick

A freestyle tribute to a turn-of-the-20th-century yarn spinner whose wild accounts of supposed exploits in exotic climes earned him great, if brief, notoriety.

Billing himself “Louis de Rougemont,” Swiss ne’er-do-well Henri Louis Grin caught public attention both in print and on the lecture circuit with astonishing tales of shipwreck and lonely subsistence on “evening dew and fish emptied from pelicans’ pouches”—plus encounters with “gruesome fish with bulging eyes and hairy mustaches,” flying wombats and “swarming bull ants.” So disappointed were credulous audiences when his claims were debunked that he was even booed off the stage during a comeback try as the titular “Greatest Liar,” and he died in obscurity in 1921. Greenwood makes it clear from the outset that Grin was a charlatan, but he also notes that some of his tales (a tentacled sea monster, fish raining from the sky) have a basis in reality. Taking a cue from his subject, perhaps, he admits that even lines he puts in quotes here are only paraphrased from Grin’s published works. More problematically, among Lessac’s stylized, naïvely imagined illustrations, one spread features putative “cannibals” sporting bones in their noses, artificially colored plumes and what are probably meant to be loincloths but look a lot like red Speedos.

Far better known Down Under than on this side of the Pacific, Grin/de Rougement merits a shoutout, though a more historically rigorous one might play better than this Aussie import. (afterword) (Picture book/biography. 7-9)