Twelve short philosophical tales with one thing in common – anger. These are fables but there’s no moralising here. There’s almost a flatness to the telling – a dozen vignettes that simply tell it like it is – be it sad, ridiculous or hilarious. And don’t expect resolution or explanation either. In fact, these tales gently and humorously explore anger – how it feels, what it is (and isn’t), how it comes and goes, its simplicity, its complexity, its futility.
The delightful cast of creatures variously encounter and experience anger in one form or another. Every evening at sunset the hyrax climbs his hill and shouts at the sun “Don’t set!” and wonders why the sun doesn’t listen. He cries with anger and wastes hours obsessing about it but nothing changes, leading the hyrax to the big question – “does anyone ever listen?” There’s an elephant who chastises himself about his desire to climb a tree. His negative self-censure goes on as he climbs, then he gets so excited about transcending it that when he actually reaches the top he loses his balance and crashes to earth.
Beetle and earthworm fight about who is angrier with catastrophic results. The hours pass and their anger abates they decide to celebrate the successful angry episode by going (most agreeably) to earthworm’s house for a bite to eat. In another story, shrew visits squirrel and tests their friendship to the extremes by trying to rouse him to anger. Even shrew’s threat of leaving doesn’t make squirrel angry but instead, as shrew indeed “vanishes into the forest”, ends up leaving both in emptiness and isolation. Hedgehog tries writing “I am angry” down on a piece of bark to try and make himself feel angry with lukewarm results but indeed ends up cross when the wind snatches the bark from his paws.
Marc Boutavant (Around the World With Mouk) has created a beautiful woodland world with his incredible illustrations. The palette is muted primaries and lots of black. The detail in the characters’ expressions is perfectly captured, the woodland world is vibrant and alive.
This is the perfect read-aloud for early-middle graders and their grown-ups. My seven-year old loves this book and carries it about. Her father isn’t so sure. Either way, it’s been a good conversation starter about feelings and emotions but, more than that, this delightful book is a meditation on human emotion. That anger is okay – it’s essential. It’s how we know we’re alive. And if that all sounds a little heavy – trust me, there’s nothing heavy about the simplicity of these creatures’ stories, the delightful and intricate illustrations and hand-feel of this book. It’s a beauty.