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Review of Grace for Gus

Grace for Gus
by Harry Bliss; illus. by the author
Primary    Tegen/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
2/18    978-0-06-264410-7    $17.99

Bliss’s nearly wordless book, told mainly through panel illustrations (and “with thanks to colorist Frank Young”), is a love letter to NYC, to creative bespectacled schoolchildren, and to guinea pigs; per the dedication page, it’s based on a short film by Bliss’s son. Our protagonist Grace — looking entirely ordinary, with black hair, round glasses, and T-shirt and jeans — sits in class as her teacher describes a fundraising project to buy a companion for their class pet, Gus. The school day ends; Grace walks home, eats dinner with her dads, does her homework, and appears to be getting ready for bed. Instead, she sneaks out of the apartment, violin case in hand, and heads down to the 14th Street Subway. She unpacks her instrument, lays open the case, and does some busking (“Bravo! Bravo!”). Next she heads to 5th Avenue and Central Park, where she sets up an easel and a sign, “Caricatures by Grace,” for three bucks a pop. Now back on the train, she performs some impressive acrobatics, and the dollars and coins fly into her hat. Grace walks home and gets some sleep. The next day at school she fills Gus’s “buddy fund” jar to the brim. Deadpan Grace remains hilariously impassive, her little Mona Lisa-esque smile the only hint of her extraordinary measures. The cameo appearances fly fast and furious throughout Bliss’s giddily gleeful tale — Spike Lee, Groucho Marx, Alfreds Hitchcock and E. Neuman; comics characters abound; and everything printed on a newspaper headline, store window, T-shirt, sign, book, or poster is a pun, pop culture reference, or entertaining insider-y joke.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons College and a BA from Oberlin College.

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