Meet the most wily jackal in the forest. Too lazy to hunt for food, he decides to trick his friend the crane, and soon gets carried away, gobbling up every animal he encounters. This lighthearted story, told in cumulative rhyme, is an adaptation of an oral trickster tale from Rajasthan, north India. [X]
I have been wanting to review this book pretty much since we started the blog last year. In December 2013, when I got to visit Tara Books, I bought a ton of books- as Janet mentioned in her post yesterday- and this is the book I chose to keep for myself.
So, first things first, the design. I made a rather big deal about dust jackets in last Friday’s post and how I prefer my picturebooks without them, but for Gobble You Up! we have an alternative. The hard cover is basically the image above but impossibly brighter, with the wonderful coarse feel of a handmade project, and it is all protected by a transparent dust jacket. I can live with that! *ahem* Moving on to more interesting design details … like how each of these books are handmade, and how despite using only two colours (three, if you include the yellow on the cover) the book is so visually captivating, and also, how pretty the endpages are! I mean, look at it, it’s almost like a textile pattern. (Though I can see how a child may not find that interesting.)
What the child will find interesting, however, is the presentation of the story itself. The picturebook, as you read in the summary, is a Rajasthani folktale adapted into an English written form by Gita Wolf. It’s basically about a jackal that is too greedy for his own good, and like most trickster tales, there isn’t much of a moral*. Just a lot of crazy fun that rhymes (most of the time anyway). Honestly, the idea of “cumulative rhyme” never even occurred to me until I read this- but it is such a playful way to tell a story! Plus, it works so well with Sunita’s fantastic artwork. The main narrative that describes the plot is represented in black ink, while the rhymes and sound effects are represented in bold, white letters.
Every time the jackal eats an animal, the animal is written into the rhyme as a new couplet, and it is represented as an illustration in the silly trickster’s belly. So, if you (or your young readers) are trying to remember the previous couplets, you could sneak a peek at the illustrations and try to guess exactly which animal the jackal ate third.
The artwork is traditional to a tribe from Rajasthan called the Meena. The art style, Mandna, is a kind of finger painting that is used by the women of the tribe to decorate the exteriors of their mud houses:
There are no brushes – a piece of cloth soaked in chalk and lime paste is squeezed through the artist’s fingers in a fluid line. The art is ephemeral, and renewed regularly, especially during festivals and celebrations. Apart from ritual motifs, one of the favourite themes of the Meena artists is animals and their young; village walls team with portraits of beasts, wild and domestic.
– “About Sunita”, Gobble You Up
That quote reminds me- not only is this picturebook visually and orally delightful, the end notes also provide a great deal of details on this particular art style, the making of this book, and the story behind wanting to work on this particular folktale. (Fun fact: it all started with Mandna art depicting pregnant animals!) It’s also good way to introduce non-European folklore and art styles to unfamiliar readers, as well as a starting point to understanding how big and varied a place like India is.
*And no one really likes didactic tales anyway, right?