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- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!


Father and Son Read-Aloud Stories (2006)

Retold by Robert Gould

Illustrated by Lara Gurin

This was a first, an author wrote to me and asked if I could review his new book, and it was actually someone I had heard of before! Robert Gould is the author of the Time Soldiers series, which our local library stocks in their "Guy's Read" section. I'm sure that would please him, since his company is called "Big Guy Books" and their mission in life seems to be getting boys into reading.

The title is not too subtle - this is a book for dads and sons – but reading through the selection of stories, I couldn't at first find a unifying thread. The stories are The Three Billy Goats Gruff, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, Puss in Boots, The Three Bears and The Lion and the Mouse. Pretty classic fare for a storybook. The only major alteration was that the main character of the Three Bears with the famous golden locks of hair was not a girl, but a young boy. Beyond that detail, the story proceeds as usual, and hits all the plot marks crisply.

"Someone's been lying in my bed!"

“Someone’s been lying in MY bed!”

“Someone IS lying in my bed and he’s fast asleep!”

There was no obvious, self-conscious man-ification to the stories – Jack didn’t chug a six-pack before ascending the eponymous beanstalk - but reading through them again did give me an appreciation for how inherently masculine some classic fairy tales already are. I decided that the unifying thread here was that all of the stories contained a very physical altercation of some sort, usually a hero and a villain squaring off in a physically violent way.

In The Three Billy Goats Gruff, of course, the final confrontation is between the oldest and largest of the Billy Goat brothers and the troll beneath the bridge. Re-reading it the second time through, it did seem to me - upon reflection - more amped up than in other tellings. Illustrator Lara Gurin places each of their faces on opposing pages, the text font has increased exponentionally.

"I've been waiting for you. And now I'm coming to gobble you up!"

"I don't like trolls! And I've got sharp horns to stick you with and hard hooves to trample you with!"

The three Billy Goats Gruff crossed their bridge every morning and grazed in the meadow, Gould writes, ending the story with, Getting bigger and stronger every day.

The tone flows into Jack and the Beanstalk quite nicely, the young boy outwitting – and finally outclimbing – the fierce Giant. It also has the added detail of the magic harp and the golden-egg-laying-goose all having once belonged to Jack’s father – who was himself a magician – and was robbed by the Giant long ago. This is not an invented addition - I’ve seen it before in other tellings - but it’s clearly no accident that it is here accentuated. In this way it becomes the story of a son taking up his father’s mantle, of fulfilling a destiny.

My son was especially interested in the artwork. When I told him I was going to be writing the author and
asked if he had any questions, he wanted to know how they got the people to look so real. On several pages I felt sure I was looking at an actual photograph that the illustrator had somehow altered digitally to only make it appear as though it had been painted… but that’s only a theory. The images are striking and filled with details – I loved the hot air balloons dotting the sky as Jack and the dapper fellow bargained over cows and beans – and have a dynamic way of interacting with the text. Some pages are full-page illustrations; on others, the illustrations playfully wrap around the text and fill the white space. There’s no static layout, each page was clearly constructed individually, which is no easy feat, I would imagine.

I’m happy to have this one in my collection. It’s clearly a labor of love and I hope it finds an audience!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Jonathan for the careful reading and excellent analysis of our book. As to why some of the characters look so real, well, that's the magic of master illustrator Lara Gurin who may have a photograph or two in her magic bag of skills and resources. To watch her create is inspiration at its finest.


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