Can you believe it’s the very last day of Picture Book Month 2012?
Holidays is the theme of the day, and in taking that to mean festive celebrations, I’ve chosen to wrap up a wonderful month with a gentle, charming, heart-melting story set at Christmas: Ernest & Celestine by Gabrielle Vincent, translated by Sam Alexander.
Celestine, a mouse, and Ernest, a bear, are perhaps an unlikely pair of friends. But good friends, thoughtful and kind friends is what they are. So when one wintry day out on a walk Celestine loses her favourite toy, Ernest is determined to make things better.
Ernest’s first attempt to make everything all right doesn’t work, but a second attempt puts a smile back on Celestine’s face. Then to spread the goodwill and to ensure that Ernest’s earlier attempts don’t go to waste, friends and neighbours are invited around to celebrate Christmas together.
It’s a terribly simple story, with the drama familiar from other tales (I first thought of that terrible moment in On the Banks of Plum Creek when Laura discovers her beloved Charlotte abandoned by Anna Nelson in a frozen puddle, and more recently there’s Mini Grey’s Lost in Space) but several aspects of this book make it stand out, head and shoulders above other similar books on offer this season.
Vincent’s illustrations are graceful, full of poise and seemingly effortless. They are soothing and calm. They are what I imagine a lullaby might look like – and certainly this book would make perfect bed time reading. Ernest and Celestine are two characters it is very easy to fall in love with. Their expressions and body language are all about love and care, about that sort of connection you feel when all you want to do is scoop up your child and hug them tight.
The tender illustrations are given centre stage by the minimal text which accompanies them. This book is an example par excellence of where the relationship between image and word is full of breathing space, where scenes and phrases are left lingering in the air to savour. There’s no “He said,” or “She said,”, no “Then this happened,” or “that happened,” but rather the reader and listener need to take their time to sew the threads together, This slower pace adds to the calm, soothing feeling I’m sure will envelop all readers and listeners of this book.
A book full of reassurance, joy, and deep, profound love, sprinkled all over with a dusting of sparkling snow and a Christmas party to boot – I’m not sure there’s a better picture book to be found under your tree this year.
Ernest and Celestine was originally published in French in 1981 under the title Ernest et Célestine ont perdu Siméon. It was a great success, and more than 20 further Ernest and Celestine books were published. Some of these were translated into English in the 1980s by various publishers, but all are now out of print.
Catnip, the publishers of this Ernest and Celestine, will be bringing out The Picnic (Ernest et Célestine vont pique-niquer) in April next year, and plan to publish one to two Ernest and Celestine books a year if they take off in the way they deserve to.
Hopefully the new animated film based on the characters Ernest and Celestine, with a script written by Daniel Pennac, will boost the books’ popularity. You might like to watch a trailer for the film (although I don’t think the animation is as beautiful as the original illustrations):
A busy week means that we haven’t yet played out this book as per the kids’ request – the plan is to spend the weekend making a pram out of cardboard, plumbing pipes and a broom handle (sounds crazy, but the plan IS a good one!). Celestine has a lovely pram which she plays with and that’s what what we’re going to try to make together.
Instead, however, you could “play by the book” by:
Now one last thing before I wrap up for this month…
If I could have chosen the theme for today, I would have simply chosen Celebration – because that’s what this month has been – one great big celebration of everything a picture book can be. Huge thanks go to Dianne de Las Casas for all her hard work and enthusiasm throughout the month, and for having the vision to create this month-long party. Well done Dianne! And here’s to Picture Book Month 2013!