Chick & Chickie Play All Day
By Claude Ponti
We’ve reviewed a fair number of these gorgeous Toon Books graphic novels for younger readers here at the FPI Blog.Â They’re magnificent little things, well thought out, beautiful artwork, perfect stories for the youngest of readers, and a great introduction to comics.
This is one of Toon Books’ Level 1 Readers, in a beautiful little landscape format hardback (to give you an idea of the style and level, it’s the same as Jeff Smith’s Little Mouse, and Art Spiegelman’s Jack and The Box).
It’s a graphic novel by Claude Ponti, a French children’s illustrator, whose work (thanks to Toon Books and Google translate) is full of dream imagery, trying to capture the inner-child. And yes, I can see that, I really can. Because although it’s designed for very young, brand-new readers, it’s a strange, quirky little thing. Well, it is eventually, when we get to the second part of the graphic novel.
What you see first of all is a delightful little tale, beautifully simple; two little chicks playing together, making masks together, scaring each other:
And that lovely, very gentle scare that’s done by each chick in turn will delight the children who’ll read this, and let the grown ups (me) who read this out loud to the tiny children they know (our foundation class of 3-4 year olds) really have fun doing the scary moments.
But just as you thought Ponti was all about simple, funny little tales, he does something rather magnificent on the final page of this part of the story. He does this:
Now that’s just brilliant. Switching the focus, adding a beautifully surreal bit of fantasy into the whole thing. Some children might get it immediately, some might need it pointing out. But once they do, they’ll howl about it.
After this, it gets a bit strange, a little bit weird. Weird in a fun, interesting way yes, but potentially weird in a strange, bizarre, mildly nightmare inducing way as well. Because after Chick and Chickie finish making their masks, they decide to play school, which involves them grabbing a weirdly alive letter “A” and manhandling it onto the page:
First they get the “A”, then they tickle it until it laughs uncontrollably, then they throw it across the double page, then they’re nice to it, then they get scary to make it afraid, until finally letting it go, dashing off panel as if released from captivity. Ponti’s using each new emotion from the kidnap victim to brings forth a new expession; “Ah“, “Ha Ha Ha!”, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA” when flying, “Ahhh!” when they’re being nice, “AH!” when they’re being scary, and finally “AAAH!” when they release it. So each page gives the reader chance to do a different A sound.
But even though I can see what he’s doing, it’s such a strange thing to see, done in such a strange, rather disturbing manner. It’s rather brilliant yes, but very strangely brilliant, a bit like Sesame Street with a kidnap in the middle. Kids are going to love it though. Like all Toon Books, the quality of the production is incredibly high, matching the quality of the story and art every time. Chick & Chickie is yet another great little first comic experience, and one that will delight in the library for many years.