[Monday Reading] An Ode to Wolf Erlbruch

IMWAYR

It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

I have fallen in love with Wolf Erlbruch’s art ever since Duck, Death and the Tulip, The Big Question, and The Miracle Of The Bears. 

The four picturebooks below showcase Erlbruch’s talent both as an illustrator to books written by other authors (the first three shared here), and to books that he has written himself (last one).

Photo taken from the Internationale Jugendbibliothek Facebook Page. Click on the image to be taken to the site.

Erlbruch is the 2017 recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s largest award for children’s and young adult literature, and won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006 for his body of work dedicated to children’s literature. He was also honoured at the International Youth Library the night before I “reported for duty” as an International Research Fellow this year. Since I just arrived then in Munich from Bergen, I missed this event, which is truly such a shame.


The King And The Sea

Written by: Heinz Janisch Illustrated by: Wolf Erlbruch  English Translation by: Sally-Ann Spencer
Published by: Gecko Press, 2015
ISBN-10: 1877579947
ISBN-13: 9781877579943
Bought copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This book is a little longer than your standard picturebook, as it is a collection of 21 stories, albeit described as “extremely short stories.” What I like about Erlbruch is that he makes use of familiar figures that the loyal reader would be able to recognize from his previously-published picturebooks. In this book, the king resembles a little bit the young boy in The Big Question.

Most of the stories are thought-provoking, some I found to be more moving than others. Yet a seemingly-common thread is how, despite this young boy being king, there is always something bigger than himself out there in the world, be it a shadow, the star, the waves of the sea, or the clouds in the skies.

There is a reflective quality to the narrative that encourages perspective taking as the young king, initially full of himself, gains a recognition of his place in the world. This would be a good book to pair with The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, as the reader reflects on the makings of a despot, or what it means to be a ruler.

The Butterfly Workshop

Written by: Gioconda Belli Illustrated by: Wolf Erlbruch Translated from the Spanish by: Charles Castaldi
Published by: Europa Editions, 2005
ISBN-10: 1933372125
ISBN-13: 9781933372129
Bought copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Another longer-than-usual narrative, this book is difficult to categorize exactly. It is definitely not a picturebook given its blocks of text, but it is also not your typical early reader or middle-grade novel. In my Goodreads, I simply tag this as illustrated novel, for lack of a better term for such a fusion text.

The setting of this narrative seems to be at the beginning of the world, as creatures as we know it, are being invented by the artists and inventors of the universe. In this story, a young designer named Odair, often gets in trouble because he wanted to combine a bird and a flower, but the Ancient Wise Woman told him that “The order of the cosmos is based on harmony, on rules that are perfect in their simplicity.” Hence, such a combination is unthinkable. And to ensure Odair’s obedience, he was assigned to work in the Insect Workshop.

However, despite the injunctions, Odair couldn’t help dreaming about the perfect fusion of bird and flower. This is a story about learning how to work within boundaries, and how creativity can continue to flourish regardless of seeming restrictions.

It is a remarkable story of triumph and resilience, and how being true to one’s self can be done while also being mindful of explicit limitations. I imagine this generating a good deal of discussion with older readers who may be trying to define who they are, and are experimenting with the many things they can be.

The Story Of The Little Mole who knew it was none of his business

Written by: Werner Holzwarth Illustrated by: Wolf Erlbruch  English Translation Copyright: David Bennett Books Limited
Published by: David Bennett Books Limited, 1994
ISBN-10: 1856024407
ISBN-13: 9781856024402
Bought copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

This tiny book made me laugh out loud several times. At first, clueless that I am, I did not realize what the thing was in Mole’s head, until he asked everyone else around him who has done this.

Reminiscent of P. D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? but with a gleefully-disgusting bent, Little Mole went around to ask neighbouring animals whether they have done this thing to him, only to be met with graphic illustrations of what theirs looked like, and how they couldn’t possibly do this to him.

From a goat to a bird to a horse to various other animals, the reader sees what each one’s ‘business’ looks like.

Whether or not Little Mole manages to discover the creature who pooped on his head, I shall leave for you to discover. Little Mole’s act of vengeance also made me laugh out loud. Sure to be a hit with fun-loving tykes who do not take themselves too seriously.

The Fearsome Five

Written and Illustrated by: Wolf Erlbruch English Translation Copyright: Gecko Press
Published by: Gecko Press, 2009
ISBN-10: 1877467227
Bought copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.

Four friends are in despair: Toad, Rat, Bat, Spider are joined together in a pity party of sorts as they commiserate on how ugly they look, and how other creatures seem to find their appearance quite awful.

Everything seems to be going wrong, until a Hyena comes along, laughing at their despair, calling them the “cry-baby club.”

When the four friends told him that it is no laughing matter, Hyena tried to comfort them by handing them an important piece of advice:

‘It doesn’t matter a jot if others think you’re ugly,’ he said warmly. ‘It’s what you do that matters. I advise you to do something – anything.’

This is a surprisingly moving story of friendship, self-loathing, and reinvention of one’s self. It is also a quiet contemplation of what beauty means and how it may need to be redefined in light of what one does. Delightfully thought-provoking as only Wolf Erlbruch does it.

  1. Thanks for another week of introducing books from Europe. I look forward to seeing your next theme.

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  2. I loved The King and the Sea – so different and so charming!

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  3. Each one looks wonderful, Myra. I hope I can find them at my library, especially that one about the little mole!

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  4. Erlbruch was so versatile, with such a range of different artistic styles, really inspiring.

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  5. I have put a hold on The Miracle Of The Bears.
    The Story Of The Little Mole who knew it was none of his business is not in my library. Copies are available through Kidsbooks, our local children’s book store as boardbooks! (There is also a pop up version!) I’m going to have to purchase a few copies for my new grandbabies as I know my sons will enjoy reading it to their darlings.

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  6. I know a few of these and now I want to see everyone in person. Thanks for highlighting these titles here!

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  7. I’ve seen a couple of these, but would like to see more of them. The mole book looks too funny.

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