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The Gobblings (2015)

Written by Matthue Roth

Illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

Considering this is the same creative team as last year's My First Kafka, they couldn't be more different. Well, I don't want to get too carried away with hyperbole. Of course there are myriad ways in which they could have been more different. Nonetheless, they might have followed with My First Proust or My First Sartre, instead they've flung us into a retro-future in which clean-cut spaceship crew members  wear Fantastic-Four style jumpsuits and contemplate large panels of blinking lights.

We're not told the year, or what galaxy we're in. Matthue's story doesn't initially seem much concerned with the science-fiction-ness of it all. It fact, he treats it with the same banality as he would being stuck inside on a rainy day.

Even the flower is sad.
Herbie didn't like his new house much at all, is how he begins, an understated contrast to Rohan's images. Think Milo from The Phantom Tollbooth mixed with Will Robinson from Lost in Space.

The nights were long and cold, and outside every window was the same boring expanse of stars.

Herbie sits playing marble – marbles! – to wile away the hours. All of Herbie's friends live several starsystems away. Does that mean –  it occurs to me now - that Herbie and his friends are aging at different rates, thanks to the cursed theory of relativity, that for every day in Herbie's life, his friends have aged seven years? If so, that's a story for another day.

Marbles in the fore, tentacles in the aft.

Regardless, it quickly becomes apparent that all is not well on board the spaceship. I always think it's neat trick when an illustrator shows things to the astute reader before the writer mentions them. It's one of the cool, narrative tricks available to the picture book genre. Well before Herbie notices them, we already see long, twisty tentacles emerging from the bulkheads, slithering from open vents. These are the Gobblings.

I had no idea if the Gobblings would turn out to be good guys or bad guys. I'm so conditioned by so much of children's literature that when the child meets the scary monster, I nearly expect it to turn out that the scary monster is actually the nicest person in the world, and those mean grown-ups just don't understand. That was the direction I suspected the story was headed, as Herbie explores the mysteries of the Gobblings – fantastic creatures living within the spaceships of the future.

I was wrong.

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