Is Petit good or is he bad? He is good when he plays with his dog but bad when he pulls girls’ hair. He can be very nice to his grandfather but very mean to pigeons. It’s a dilemma the young boy tries to figure out throughout this picture book.
The front cover of Petit, The Monster perfectly captures the two sides to Petit’s personality. The young boy looks like a model of good behaviour, but there’s something cheeky about the set of his eyes, smiling mouth and carefully clasped hands: he looks too good to be true. The two vertical colour bands in the background also give us an indication of the contrasts inherent in this tale. On the orange band, notice the little bunny, soft and gentle; on the greeny-blue band, a wolf-like creature with fearsome teeth. Then take a closer look at the colour banding on Petit’s outfit. This front cover speaks volumes.
The animal symbols feature again in the main story. When Petit enjoys a cuddle from his grandfather, a bunny rabbit can be seen peeking out from under his character outline. On the opposite page, when Petit fires a catapult at pigeons perched in a tree, a wolf-like creature lurks beneath his character outline. It is as if we are being shown his inner personality: the good rabbit and the bad wolf.
After various examples of Petit being good and then being bad, Isol introduces an all-important question via the young boy’s mother: “How can such a good boy sometimes do such bad things?” This prompts Petit to try to understand his own behaviour – and does he struggle! One spread particularly resonated with me: Petit is bad when he tells a lie, but good at telling stories. Aren’t all stories fabrications, lies of sorts … ? No wonder Petit needs some peace and quiet and a how-to manual to work it all out.
But after a brief pause, our protagonist digs a little deeper in his exploration of good and bad. He comments that Gregory is a horrible boy and yet he felt sorry for him the other day. He remarks that Laura still sits next to him in class although he pulls her hair. Through the eyes of a young boy, we are reminded of the contradictions of human nature. Petit empathises with the bad guy; Laura remains passive although Petit is obviously hurting her. I know I can think of similar scenarios from my own experience or observations – I’m sure we all can.
Finally, Petit hits on a solution: “I must be some kind of good-bad boy, maybe.” Then, in the humorous end scene, he turns his observations on his mother. He decides she is good because she understands – and bad when she sends him to bed without dessert. Hmm! Petit hasn’t quite got it figured out, but he’s shared some valuable thoughts with us along the way.
Isol’s illustrations look like childish sketches at first glance. But they burst with vitality and carry an impressive range of emotion. I was instantly drawn to the characters and the simple page composition; it is easy to understand what is going on. I also relished the colour palette with its unusual combination of orange, green, blue, brown and yellow tones.
Petit, The Monster is a fabulous little picture book. Simple on the surface, it explores a topic that is difficult to grasp. What is good and what is bad and how do we learn to distinguish between the two when there is so much complexity? The story is a valuable starting point for discussion with children of all ages, as well as being a great read.
Petit, The Monster, by Isol, translated by Elisa Amado (Groundwood Books, 2010)
Original title (Spanish): Petit, el monstruo (RBA Libros, 2006)
Isol is an Argentine author and illustrator based in Buenos Aires. She received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2013 for her contribution to children’s and young adult literature. She has twice been selected as a finalist for the Hans Christian Andersen award. She has published a number of picture books, many of which are available in English. Isol is also an advertising illustrator, pop singer, comic book writer and active blogger.
Elisa Amado is a Guatemalan-born author and translator. She has written a number of picture books, including Barrilete: A Kite for the Day of the Dead (Un barrilete para el Día de los Muertos), Cousins (Primas) and Tricycle (El triciclo), which is on the Américas Award Commended List and is a USBBY Outstanding International Book. She lives in Toronto.