Tim Wynne-Jones, one of Canada's most celebrated authors of children's books, and illustrator Dusan Petricic have pooled their considerable talents and come up with a fun, whimsical, and boldly designed parable about how art can conquer chaos. In this engaging tale, a painter stoically wards off the energetic attempts, and even downright physical assaults, on the part of a mischievous mob of monsters to subvert his work. The pranksters run wild: they hurl a boulder "as big as a bed just missing [his] head"; "one draws on the sidewalk, two more start a fight, three leap in the fountain and four ride a bike".
The dilemma: What can an artist do in the midst of such anarchic topsy-turviness?
The resolution: To stay put and create through the rough-and-tumble, to "paint these monsters right out of [his] head".
Art does triumph in the end and drives away the monsters. But has it really? Are they really gone? Wynne-Jones leaves his reader under the curiously destabilizing sign of the interrogative.
The text is delightful and it bounces, visually and rhythmically, along the pages. But the book's strong point has to be its design with its self-conscious playing with the juxtaposition of the two arts that make up children's picture books: the written and the visual. The words are in strong black type, jiggling ever so slightly, and are framed individually in blocks, reflecting the will and stalwart determination of the artist to stay focussed. The text is set against the riotous splash and profusion of watercolours that depict the exuberant gang of children, swirling and twirling around the more monochromatic artist, who remains the still point in this melee. The clever angle (and I can think of no other reason for it apart from the desire to be clever) is the way in which Wynne-Jones plays with sentence length: the first sentence is twenty-six words long, corresponding to the number of monsters, and each consecutive sentence is one word shorter. A counting lesson, perhaps? In the end, we are left with the single-word question, "Where?", and a vision of Tumbledown Hill where the creature-kids have become part of the very landscape that the artist has been painting throughout the eventful evening.
Alicia Sloboda is a Toronto writer and translator.