Friday, March 28, 2008

Once Upon a Banana

Picture courtesy: Amazon

Author/Illustrator: Jennifer Armstrong, David Small

Read Together: 2+

Genre: Humor

Once Upon a Banana
is totally bananas!

It starts with a naughty little monkey, who runs away from his juggler caretaker, steals a banana and carelessly throws the peel on the sidewalk, right next to a sign that says "Don't litter".

From there on, chaos ensues. Someone parks his bike in a no parking zone, steps on the peel, crashes into a ladder, throwing a painter on to a shopping cart, which zooms into a busy traffic intersection....I could continue, but I would be spoiling the fun for you, so I won't!

But I will say this. Each page promises wild, hilarious theatrics and acrobatics that you would not expect to see on a busy city street. And the way each scene unfolds makes it seem as if something like that could, probably happen; it does not seem like a fantasy at all. (Except maybe for one scene of a baby flying through the air, which I found unrealistic and which also alarmed my two year old - for he was concerned for the safety of the baby!)

This is probably a good time to mention one important thing. Once Upon a Banana is a wordless book. All the story telling task is left to the illustrator - David Small - a Caldecott honor medal recipient, who paints pictures of the chaos and drama though cartoonish, light, water color illustrations. Not one text to clarify what is happening, not one line of spoken dialogue. Everything that needs to be said is in the facial expressions of the characters and the animated movement of objects being hurled around. There are appropriate road signs on each page, that serve to act like marks of irony and add to the humor rather than convey any special message.

In each of my half dozen or so readings so far, I notice a tiny detail that I didn't catch before, and it makes me wonder how much time the author, Jennifer Armstrong, invested in coming up with the precise detail of events. In her biography, Armstrong says she had wanted to write books that "capture a reader's imagination and make them forget everything else while they read." This book does exactly that -it transports you temporarily to a square block of that fictional city, making you turn each page, as you wonder what is going to happen next.

The comedy of errors builds up to a fitting climax and you can happily close the book, with a feel good smile on your face.

If you happen to get your hands on Once Upon a Banana, please post a comment on what you thought about it. I would love to hear your interpretation.


MotherReader said...

I totally love this book. It is such fun to share with a child and look for the sequence of events as they transpire. I'm not usually a wordless book fan - I love the sound of my own voice as I read aloud ;^) - but I thought this one was very clever.

Praba Ram said...

Thnks KM for a great recommendation. The domino/ripple effect kinda books are always fun aren't they?

Thanks Motherreader for stopping by! Love your blog! (& of course, Mo Williems too!) ;-) Can't forget Knufflebunny and all his pigeon books...Need to check out the sequel that you've recommended.

Anusha said...

Motherreader: thank you for your comment! nice to meet fellow fans of this book :)

Praba: yes, and now I am in search of more such books, if I find them will do a series here on ST.

Praba Ram said...

km - that would be great if we can do a series. Tulika's It's only a story is one such book that T reviewed.

Laura Numeroff's - If you give a mouse a cookie series too are pretty good - one thing triggering the other...

anecdote: First grade students at K's elementary school had a project in which they had to develop on stories like these - each kid was given a title - "If you bring a puppy to school" for instance...Kids had to develop each of the story, and they were all such creative ideas...

K gets a kick outa coming with title ideas for these kind..
If you give an alligator some apple juice and If you give a crocodile some carrots are two that I remember very vividly! :-)))

Jennifer Armstrong said...

Thanks for a nice review, but I do take exception to the description of this book as "wordless." The construction of this story was a really complicated matter, and I organized the signs and the descriptions of this cascading chaos with great care. The signs are the text, and the images carry the action. David Small brought the whole thing to life in a way that most illustrators could never manage. There isn't any dialogue, that's true, and there's no narration, that's true, but there are words! Kids very often learn to read by noticing signs, so this book has the kind of text that matches the reading environment of its audience.
Thanks again for a nice review!

Anusha said...

Jennifer: It is such a pleasure and honor to see your comment here. The signs in the book do deserve special mention, especially because of the dimension they add to the humor and yes, my son was delighted to see familiar road signs. Thank you for bringing us such a delightful read.

Anonymous said...

I've never read your blog before, but my kids love this book. We've taken it out from the library several times. It's incredibly creative and you can read through it quickly or leisurely.

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