Sunday, March 07, 2010

A Book

A Book
by Mordicai Gerstein

Ages : 6-10

Sometimes, when you are bowled over by a particular author or illustrator, you tend to go on a rampage of their work, trying to experience as much of it as you can. And along the way, you form some impressions about their unique style, and get a sense of what they like to repeat in their mode of expression.

With Mordicai Gerstein, its his affinity to show his illustrations within a frame on each page, or in multiple smaller frames, almost like a comic, but more unique. Or the way he likes to begin the story even before the formal title page of the book, making it a part of his outline. In A Book, he uses the latter style.

Once, in A BOOK, by MORDICAI GERSTEIN, published by Roaring Brook Press, New York, there lived a family of characters... begins, on the page where you typically find the inset title, publisher information etc. But there's no preliminaries here. It launches right in. The concept, as usual, is stunning. The book is about the characters in the story, who know fully well that they are characters in a story and know that we are readers looking in to their world. Their world begins on a dark page, and it is dark because it is night. And it is night, because the book has been closed all this while. :)

So when we open the book, day breaks and the action begins. A family of 4, the father is a clown, the mother is a fire-fighter, the brother has aspirations for space, the cat that wants to hunt for small things, the dog who seeks interesting odors, and a fish who is looking for the sea. And last but by no means least, our main character, the Girl. The Girl has a serious question for the family at breakfast. Unlike them all, who have their own theories of what the story in the book is about, she does not know, and wants to find out....what's my story?

And off she goes, to the next page, to find out!

The funnest funnest aspect of the book is that it directly recognizes us as the reader, who is peeping into the world of these interesting characters. And in that it just comes alive, beneath your nose and above the lap in which you hold open the book. Its not just a story that you read about, its a live experience, with recognition from both sides....the character and the reader. Another little quirk that you will recognize and be amused by, is the way the text boxes look. They have this nice cute slope downwards which re-emphasizes your own physical position as the reader, looking down, looking in.

So let's go to the next page.

There she met a large goose.

Oops. Can you figure out where this is going? On every page, she meets a set of characters come alive from books and fairy tales of yonder, and situations that could decidedly set the theme for a story. Let's start with the goose. Because she is definitely the funniest. Let me relay their conversation to you.

The Girl : I'm looking for my story Ms. Goose. I don't know what it is.

Ms. Goose : Oh, you'd better find it. Readers like a good story, else they close the book you know.

(Yes, its alright to laugh out loud at this point!)

The Girl : What are...readers?

Ms. Goose : Look up.

And the goose looks up, right into our faces. Winkie and me burst out guffawing at this point. That super comical expression on her face, coupled with our discovery of how intrinsic a role we actually play in this story, just awakened our keenest senses of delight!

The Girl : EEEEK! What's that huge...blobby thing that looks something like a face?

Ms. Goose : That's a reader. And you might want to be careful. It can read everything you say.

Chances are you are doubling up in laughter at all of this, if you aren't too offended with being called a huge blob, that is. :)

And thus it goes to the next page, with Ms. Goose eager to share her story with the girl, and do you know what that is? Can you guess? Its as good as gold, I can tell you that! And on and on it goes, as the Girl meets more fairy tale characters, which Winkie loved guessing, from their appearances and the little verbal clues. But she wants none of it. And races confusedly to the next page, and bumps into a detective, who takes her through the classic elements of a mystery plot. But that's just a little too scary for her. And she moves on.

Alice in Wonderland, maybe? No. Not that. Her name is not Alice.

Pirates and sharks maybe? Nope. Definitely not the pirates. The sharks maybe, because for once, they are the friendly sort who swim her across to the next page.

A historical novel? No, its too much work for her.

Drifting in outer space, with her brother perhaps? Sigh, no. Its all too much for her, and she finally figures out what her story is, and she goes home to dinner. There, she declares that her story is that of a young girl who doesn't know what her story is and so she becomes an author to write her own story. So she writes and writes and writes, until its time for bed, at which point, she looks straight up at us, and asks....

Dear Reader, now that you've reached the end of the book, would you mind closing it please? I'd like to go to sleep. Thank you.

And of course we close the book.

But because of the huge hit it has become in just one reading, Winkie was all set to read it again, and my pleas to let the Girl sleep after her long and confusing day, were not heeded. He dragged her out of bed all over again, for the whole long crazy ride!

Oh well!


sathish said...

I like being a huge blob with glasses!!

Anusha said...

what a blast! and clever! love books that laugh at themselves...we'll check this out for sure.

Choxbox said...

T, how o how do you land up with gems like these? !Maybe the Book Universe Gods conspire to make it happen because they know you'll do full justice as a reviewer!

sandhya said...

I must get this one. A will love it. They recently had a series of assignments at school where they had to review a book, write an autobiography and a biography. Then they had to convert the biography into a book, complete with the page about the copyright, illustrations, and a note about the author and blurb written by a parent. This different take on a 'book' will certainly interest her!

wordjunkie said...

Sounds wonderful!

Sheela said...

So clever and funny! I can picture the whole thing from your description, T! To be poked fun at as a reader and we are the ones reading it, to ourselves. Just the concept itself is so precious!

Vibha said...

A very different concept, would definitely love to read something like this.
Thanks T.

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