Friday, December 23, 2011

Beauty and the Squat Bears by Emile Bravo

"Pfft!  A prince, a prince...Now where am I supposed to find one of those?"

Ahh, that age-old question.... 

Emile Bravo is an award-winning  French comic writer and illustrator whose work for older children and adults I have been drawn to for its originality and emotional depth.  His Seven Squat Bears series (The Hunger of the Seven Squat Bears, Goldilocks and the Seven Squat Bears, Beauty and the Squat Bears) is his first foray into writing for younger children, and he handles the transition with panache.  The Squat Bears were an instant hit in France, and it's not hard to see why.  They're all clever fairy-tale mash-ups which are full of personality,  funny as heck, and just right for an elementary-school audience.   Beauty and the Squat Bears is my personal favourite, with its zany plot and derriere-kicking  fairy godmother.

So what do I like so much about these books?  First of all, I love the drawings...especially the bears.  They're the straight men in these stories and their expressions are priceless.  Especially when they're being grouchy and cynical.

Bravo's illustration style has been described as "clean, expressive and ironic."  I think his style, which is actually quite detailed although it manages to look fresh and uncluttered, is perfect for this age group.  I like the rich, saturated colours he uses.  I also like how he hasn't made the bears "cute".  They really are squat, rectangular almost, and it gives them a very business-like appearance.  Especially when they're stalking through magic forests looking for princes to solve their princess problems.  

The dialogue is snappy:

"'Ohhh!  Pleeeease, let me stay with you.  I'll do whatever you want...'
'Even chores?'
'Huh?  I don't think so!  After all, I am a princess...'
'So, what can a princess do?'
"Huh?  Well, marry a prince, duh!'"

And a little later on:

"'Alas!  A sorcerer put a curse on me that turned me into a bird for seven years...'
'Seven years!  No way!  That'll never do!  I need a prince right here, right now.  It's to get rid of a princess!'

I've heard that there is a fourth Squat Bear book coming out in french this year (Le Sept Ours Nains et Compagnie).  Hopefully the translation will be with us soon!

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