I can’t remember why I got to write about this one instead of Robin — it seems like an obvious book for a teacher to review. But I sure am glad it’s mine!
This is one of those books that could have been a big mess. First, the traditional Gingerbread Man is an annoying guy and anyone who creates a book that relates to that character needs to decide on its tone right from the start. Then there’s the rhyming text, easy to force and hard to keep consistently funny and clever throughout. And visually this takes a comic book style with a mix of two typefaces and some handwritten text. Sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Instead, this recipe works like a charm, just like the batch of gingerbread being made by children in school on the first page. Told in the first person (“I began in a bowl. I was not yet myself — just a list of ingredients pulled from a shelf.”), we see the titular character arrive from the oven, already quite full of himself, as the kids leave for recess. Distraught at being left behind, the G.M. races around in a panic getting into scrapes à la Mr. Bill but surviving with nothing worse than a broken toe. We meet a nurse, coach, art teacher, and the principle, each taking the situation in stride and helping him on his way. Throughout, the text keeps up its rhythm and rhyme and the familiar refrain varies slightly each time:
I’ll LIMP and I’ll LIMP,
As fast as I can.
I can catch them! I’m their
From the start, Lowery’s art sets the tone. The wobbly outlines and simply-drawn, somewhat blobby characters could only be in a comedy. Then there’s the size discrepancy between the humans and the self-important but tiny main character. But there’s something endearing about this guy. Unlike the folkloric Gingerbread Man who has always seemed whiney to me, this one is justifiably worried about being left behind and is trying so hard to solve his problem. Any child who has momentarily lost sight of a caregiver in a crowded store will be able to commiserate.
Now that most of the Best of the Year lists are out, I’m sorry this one didn’t make the cut. And once again we have the issue of a truly funny book, and one whose art looks dashed off (it’s not) rather than distinguished.
Does this one have a chance?