Let me just say the hardest part first. This is such an enchantingly beautiful and bizarre little book that even if your kids love and crave it, you probably shouldn't let them have actual possession of it. Ever. They'll ruin it with boogers and magic marker scribbles, or by using it as a nicely flat, easily-swung slapping weapon for flies and whatnot. Just read it to them if they're at that age, and then keep it out of their reach, like guns or matches or bleach. Or loan it to them and make sure they leave their favorite toy or CD or driver's license as a deposit on its safe return, if they are older but probably not much wiser.
Every now and then, there's a perfect marriage of word and image—usually found in the Newbery and Caldecott winners for children's literature, but sometimes found in adult fiction, too, like the Griffin and Sabine series—that reassures us that not only is The Book as icon and artifact and salvation alive and well but so, too, are imagination, whimsy, nonsense, kindness, generosity, and Gappers, all of which can be found in this book.
Yes, Gappers, those seemingly immortal hybrids that are part burdock burr, part sea urchin, and part tennis ball, only they're bright orange and covered with eyes and they shriek nonstop with delight when they can roll on up onto a goat. Gappers also persist remarkably (they can be combed off but they come right back!), and eventually cover completely the object of their obsession. Goats hate Gappers. In fact, the goats get nervous at first and stop eating. Then they become terrified and fall over and won't move. Even worse, they certainly don't feel like producing milk while dozens of orange tennis ball burrs from Hell are screaming at them night and day. Which really sucks if you live in a small town by the sea such as Frip, and if you depend on the goat milk and cheese for your survival.
Frip is saved by a hard-working, stoic, level-headed little girl named, appropriately enough, Capable. But Capable can't keep the three families of Frip—and their goats—from enduring much misery and hardship. Even worse for the adults of Frip, they have to ADMIT THEY WERE WRONG. Which, as you adults out there know, is like trying to take your own ears off and wear them in your shoes.
When you finish this book, you will have learned some important lessons, the most important of which are the following. 1) You have fallen in love with the wry, haunting, other-worldly illustrations by Lane Smith, who illustrated The Stinky Cheese Man and James and The Giant Peach, among other works. I don't know of a single illustrator who has captured the mystique of that remarkably useful, personable, and quirky animal, The Goat, better than Smith has. I am particularly fond of his rendering of a Gapper-free goat smiling maliciously through the picket fence at other goats that are now covered with Gappers. Smith even faithfully reproduces their rectangular pupils, an oddity that no biologist has every yet explained to my satisfaction; and 2) You will find yourself re-reading the delightful text by George Saunders, and possibly quoting such memorable lines as these:
That afternoon, Mrs. Romo finished her usual afternoon session of shouting at her boys for not doing their afternoon scales, then stepped out onto what she called her veranda, which was a little square of dirt where the cat liked to leave its chewed up spitty toys.
Saunders' prose is perfect for reading aloud. There's not too much tongue-tying alliteration or too rapid of a cadence that can leave you breathless. You know how some children's books make race you through a string of monosyllables, like this: `You know what I mean and I think you do, too, so there I said it what do you think of that?” Gasp!
Saunders and Smith have created a marvelous and strange tale, and if you love marvelous and strange tales, or are curious about Gappers, or know of a little Capable in your life who needs encouragement—or simply cannot see enough pictures of grinning goats—this is the book for you.
© Copyright 2001 by KNS Mare'