October 13, 2014

Gustave

by Rémy Simard
Illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Translated by Shelley Tanaka
Groundwood Books
978-1-55498-451-0
56 pp.
Ages 4-7
For release October, 2014

From the title page alone, Gustave evokes a rough darkness with its heavily-inked, coarse lettering and shades of colours with overlays of black.  There's black, black and more black. Sombre and fearful is how Gustave begins, with a little mouse overwhelmed by the loss of his dear friend Gustave when they venture too far from home and encounter a cat.  Gustave will not be returning home with the little mouse whose sorrow is well conveyed by the spare words of Rémy Simard's blunt text:
Gustave won't play with me anymore.
He won't tell me goodnight.
He won't look at me anymore.
(pg. 6)
But Pierre Pratt's illustrations, in ink and gouache, are the force by which the story of Gustave is told.  The double-page spreads of artwork, sometimes with few words, if any, overwhelm the story, just as the consequences of the little mouse's actions smother him with sorrow.  It is only in the last half-dozen pages of the story that the colours are able to seep through, ending with a single page of bright artwork opposite a white page of text. It is a bright, hopeful ending in both text and illustration.

Though I may describe Gustave as having a dirge-like quality, it is nothing but brilliant in its masterful picture book story-telling of a mouse grieving the loss of a friend.  I suspect that, even without the unexpected twist at the end, this story could not have been told any better than it has been by Rémy Simard and Pierre Pratt, thankfully translated by Shelley Tanaka so that so many more of us can appreciate it.

Gustave is currently nominated for a 2014 Governor General's Literary Award for Illustration in a French Children's Book. Bonne chance, Pierre Pratt!

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