I’ve got my sights set on some picture book imports today, all three of them originally published in French. Two are by the celebrated author-illustrator Olivier Tallec, and one is by the just-as-celebrated Marianne Dubuc. And all three books are utterly pleasing in many directions.
First up, let’s take a look at Dubuc’s book, which will be on shelves in early August. Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds, originally published in French (Dubuc lives in Quebec), is the type of detailed book that young readers will want to pore over. The plot is really simple: A mouse delivers packages to his community, and the members of that community range from a snake, to skunks, to on octopus at the bottom of the sea, to even a dragon and Mr. Yeti. Not much more than that happens, but the delight lies in the details of each animal’s home; each spread is filled with surprises both funny and entertaining.
For instance, there’s the home of the Rabbit family. Their kitchen is above ground in an A-frame home, but a tiny ladder shoots below the earth to reveal other rooms. In one, a rabbit sits on a toilet, dropping pellets into a hole. (This same moment appears on the cover. I think we could count on one hand—maybe two?—the instances in which pooping appears on the covers of picture books. Note to self: New research project!) In another room, bunk beds are stacked tall for the 14 rabbit children. Whew.
The snake’s home barrels along multiple spreads, a long and horizontal tunnel. (The snake’s belly is filled with surprises, too, so be sure to take your time reading.) In Mr. Wolf’s home, the three pigs are dressed as bandits, attempting to save the stack of sheep Mr. Wolf has imprisoned in a tiny room. The penguins’ place delivers the most laughs, arguably. On top of their igloo, set in the middle of a grassy field, is a snow machine, since it’s “winter all year long. Brrrrr!” The penguins’ home is not to be outdone by the Bat Sisters’ house, though. Look closely to see the bats hanging from the roof, but beneath them are tiny beds.
Dubuc’s small and intricate drawings in this over-sized book are filled with the types of details that reward attentive readers. As the Kirkus review notes, the drawings are “playful but never cutesy.” Make a date with Mr. Postmouse, and your children/students will thank you.
Olivier Tallec’s Louis I: King of the Sheep, originally published in France last year, won’t be on shelves till September, but it will be well worth the wait. In this very funny, tongue-in-cheek political thriller, a sheep on a hill—resting on all four legs, mind you—is greeted by a blue crown. The wind has blown the crown his way, and “so it was one windy day that Louis the Sheep thereby became Louis I, King of the Sheep.” That’s right: All it takes is the mere suggestion of monarchy and sheep subjugation, and one is in charge.
Louis decides, after standing up regally on merely two legs, that he should have a scepter, a throne, a grand king’s bed, a podium for addressing his people, and more. He takes up all kingly duties—hunting, strolling through his royal garden, the greeting of ambassadors from far and wide, etc.—until power makes him corrupt and he decides that only those sheep who look like him can live at his side. This is just prior to another gust of wind, one that brings a change in fortune to the sheep—and his return to all four legs. This humbles him both literally and metaphorically, but no matter: The crown has blown in the direction of his mortal enemy, the wolf, whom observant readers will notice has been hanging out on a few spreads.
Oops! If a crown makes a king, the sheep are in for some trouble.
Tallec’s lush spreads are filled with some funny moments, including the rest of the sheep and their utter disregard for Louis’ grandiose ambitions. The hand-lettered text is a lovely touch. We readers are lucky that Enchanted Lion Books here in the States has published and will likely continue to publish so many of Tallec’s offerings overseas.
Finally, come October, don’t miss Tallec’s Who Done It?, which will come to us by way of Chronicle Books and which was also originally published in France last year. This is a book that brings young readers a line-up of creatures (human and otherwise) on each spread, which is accompanied by a search-and-find question. “Who played with the mean cat?”, my favorite spread asks. We see 10 characters. Readers have to look very closely. Ah, one disgruntled young girl has cat scratches on her.
One of this book’s delights is that questions can be interpreted in various ways. “Who is nervous?” asks one spread. Though one character with a bee on its head is visibly shaking—answers are even provided in the back of the book, and we know this blue creature is our guy—one creature with a ball flashes an angry look at the animal next to him. Perhaps anxious people sometimes appear angry? It’s certainly a conversation that could pop up while sharing this book one-on-one with a child. The same could be said about the “Who is in love?” spread: One boy may be blushing and hiding flowers behind his back, but maybe the creature belting out a song on his guitar is smitten too.
Three French treats to look forward to. Magnifique!
LOUIS I, KING OF THE SHEEP. First American edition published in 2015 by Enchanted Lion Books. Translated from the French by Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.