A Boy Genius from the Stone Age and a Peculiar Little Visitor in Raymond Briggs’ “UG” and “The Man”

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We are soon about to end our Oddballs and Misfits, the Surreal and the Peculiar, A Celebration of Beautiful Strangenesses theme. And so before the week ends, let me share a few more picture books from the amazing Raymond Briggs as these two stories seem to fit the surreal and oddball theme perfectly.

IMG_6773The Man

Written and Illustrated By: Raymond Briggs
Publisher: Julia MacRae Books, an imprint of the Random Century Group, 1992.
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

A young boy named John wakes up early morning to find a peculiar little visitor in his bedroom. It is a miniature man without a name (they are reputed to not have any); the man is not a dwarf, an elf, a fairy – and by God, he is not a foreigner. He does not even want their ‘kind’ to be referred to as a different species, he is just a man. He even refuses to call himself small or tiny (although technically he is probably the size of Tom Thumb) – as The Man righteously points out that size is relative and would ultimately depend on one’s perspective.

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As you can see in the image above, this is no ordinary guest. He has very specific tastes. He demands white bread (none of those healthy wheat bread that tastes no good), sausage and bacon (of course it does not help that this boy’s mother is a vegetarian and a serious health buff), Frank Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade and full cream milk on his PG Tips, please (none of those Darjeeling and Earl Grey as they are nothing but old maids’ tea).

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The Man is also easily offended by anything that makes reference to his being different from this young boy. This could prove to be a wonderful read-aloud to young adults who may be under the delusion that they are still the center of the universe.

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It forces one to view situations from multifaceted points of view, suspend judgment when encountering something (or someone) strange and peculiar, and to be wary of our preconceived notions and oft-unfounded assumptions about anyone different from who we are. And as per usual, Raymond Briggs makes the reader think about the nature of altruism and the subtle difference between being magnanimous and patronizing, and the limits of and motivations behind one’s so-called generosity of spirit.

UG: Boy Genius of the Stone AgeIMG_6786

Story and Pictures By: Raymond Briggs
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This must be one of my favorite Raymond Briggs’ picture book of all times. As the subtitle goes, the story is about UG, a “Boy Genius of the Stone Age and his Search for Soft Trousers.”

Unlike other kids his age who are fascinated by the hideous carcass of dead animals and playing with nothing but stones, our young friend here is a Philosopher, a thinker, an artist, a wondering little boy who dreams of hot dishes, warm and woolly trousers, and even bending the stream to make life a tad easier for their family.

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His parents, as you could see above, are naturally concerned. His mother, a real virago to the core, can not for the life of her, figure out what seems to be wrong with her son who seems to prefer soft things and whose head seems to be continually in the clouds. She is afraid that UG would end up a crazy loony bin who paints the walls.

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I love the fact that despite his mother’s screeching putdowns and his father’s henpecked passive-aggressive spiel, UG remains wide-eyed – forever questioning the nature of things, always wondering about how things may be improved, never perceiving what is ‘customary’ to be the only singular course of action – as he looks for alternatives, explores possibilities. Whether or not UG finds his soft trousers, I shall leave for you to discover. This one is a book that every library and home must have.

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Ug was silver runner up for the 2001 Nestlé Smarties Book Prize.

1992 Kurt Maschler Award for The Man

AWB Reading Challenge Update:  28, 29 of 35

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Read-a-Latte Challenge: 95, 96 of 150

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