BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Gustave by Rémy Simard, illustrated by Pierre Pratt, translated by Shelley Tanaka

GustaveAs much as Gustave tends toward dark (both in illustrations and initial narrative content), it’s even more so about hope … and maybe a bit of ironic humor, as well. The ending arrives with enough eyebrow-lifting surprise to think perhaps this picture book might be as much for adults as for the youngest readers.

“He’s gone,” the story eerily begins. “Gustave won’t play with me anymore. He won’t tell me goodnight. He won’t look at me anymore.” And so a pink-nosed, pink-eared tiny mouse mourns his identical best friend: “The cat ate him.” Whaaaa … ??!!

But because the cat ate Gustave, “Gustave saved me,” the surviving young mouse realizes. He understandably agonizes all day, chiding himself for not listening to his mother’s warnings about straying too far, and finally returns home to confess his misadventures. Standing in a pool of his own tears, he begins, “About Gustave …”

What’s a Mommy Mouse to do? And how will her sweet baby ever recover? And who is Henry anyway …? No more spoilers here. Read and you shall know.

Artist Pierre Pratt’s broad brush strokes distinctly amplify Rémy Simard’s simple (dare I say blunt?) text: Pratt emphasizes the distraught beginning with ominous hues, and enhances the hopeful resolution with swaths of bright intensity. The mournful black, brown, blue palette turns lighter about two-thirds through, introduced by the diagonal yellow glow that emanates from the arched entrance of the beckoning mouse house. Turn the page to find Mommy Mouse preparing a meal in a cozy kitchen awash with warmth and love. Her pink apron is a distinct contrast to the somber outside, marking her as the oasis her young son has been searching for in the midst of his anguish.

Part adventure, part parable, part Mommy-is-always-right reminder (ahem!), Gustave is not your usual treacly fare: the danger and loss are just as believable as the happy ending. No artificial sweeteners here: the fear is real, but so is Mommy’s ability to make things better … at least for now.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013, 2014 (United States)


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