Lane Smith (of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and many others) is one of my all-time favorite illustrators, and I’ve got a growing collection of his books (mostly the result of foraging in bargain bins!).
I’d been eyeing the book The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders (illustrated by Lane Smith) at a specialty bookstore for ages. Earlier this year, I finally scored a copy at one of the book store sales for only P59!
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip is an illustrated fable about the goatherding village of Frip, a three-family community (made of the Romos, the Romsens, and a girl named Capable with her widowed dad) living on a seaside cliff, which faces a serious gapper infestation.
The creepy gappers are small orange burr-like creatures with many eyes that stick to goats and prevent them from giving milk. Every day, the children of Frip had to brush dozens gappers off their goats eight times over, gather them in a sack, and dump them off the cliff into the sea. And every night, the very persistent gappers would edge their way up the cliffs, back into the goatyards, and onto the poor goats.
Life is a routine for the citizens of Frip, especially for the overworked children, until the very persistent gappers make up their minds to concentrate their infestation efforts on the goats closest to the cliff — Capable’s herd. Capable turns to her neighbors to help her stop the gapper infestation, and Frip is never the same again.
I liked the simplicity of the story, which makes it enjoyable on different levels, delivering on the promise it makes on the dust jacket: an “adult story for children, a children’s story for adults.” On the one hand it’s an outlandish and funny story about determination and community spirit, and on the other it’s a thought-provoking commentary on social classes and the struggle between the haves and the have-nots.
The deadpan narration and dialogue is hilarious, creating a fun and non-cutesy fairy tale for the modern audience. Capable is a feisty heroine, one of the most endearing I’ve ever come across, and certainly very memorable.
Lane Smith’s whimsical, mixed media illustrations are lush and evocative, complementing the story perfectly. The palette is more muted than Smith’s other children’s books — the trademark browns are more on the fawn shades than the usual ochres, and very limited yellows — and the illustrations less [in-your-face] cheeky (although still sufficiently cheeky!), leaning towards surrealism. The quiet beauty of the illustrations is breathtaking and captures the mood of the story, adding subtle nuances to the themes Saunders lays down.
It’s a wonderful book to add to my Lane Smith collection, and an awesome read for the week!
My copy: hardcover, missing dust jacket
My rating: 5/5 stars
*book photos from Amazon, footer from Lane Smith’s website