Friday 1 September 2017

ReadItDaddy's Second Picture Book of the Week - Week Ending 1st September 2017 - "The Gritterman" by Orlando Weeks (Particular Books)

Our Second Picture Book of the Week is hugely thought provoking, and - by rights - really shouldn't exist...
I must admit, when we came back from holiday and saw the sheer size of our review pile I started to weed through the books to find the ones I could run off with and devote a bit more time to.

As soon as I saw the cover for "The Gritterman" I knew it was going to be something a little different to the norm. With an amazing William Grill-style pencil drawing on the cover, I wanted - no, needed to know more about this one.

When I say 'by rights this book really shouldn't exist' it feels like it's come about by perhaps a series of lucky and unlucky circumstances. Orlando Weeks, once lead singer and driving force behind the group "The Macabees" started working on this story when the band folded back in 2016.

"The Gritterman" is something that we need to see more of in children's fiction. It's essentially a picture book that is, at its heart, about a simple working man. In the summer the Gritterman takes his ice cream van out and sells ices for a living. In the winter his services are called on every time there's an icy spell and the roads turn to ice or slush.

But as the years pass, and The Gritterman becomes old, his inner monologue takes him to places that are increasingly dark.

When a letter arrives from the council telling him that his services are no longer required (a nod to global warming, government cutbacks, all the sorts of things you'd expect to find perhaps in songs by Orlando's ex-band), The Gritterman steels himself for one final gritting run.

This ticked all our boxes in so many ways. Mine, because it's easy to identify the 'grown up' subjects that are delicately woven together to form this amazing story.

For Charlotte it was because (and publishers take note, please do take note) this is a story that isn't fizzled out and spent in 12 spreads. In fact that's another reason for me stating at the top of the review that this book really shouldn't exist. By rights, if you were an unknown author and you submitted something like this, you'd probably be shown the door until you could get it to fit the well established picture book format (which we're still banging on about as being like sticking a G-Cramp around your creativity gland, and tightening it until that gland bursts! Owch!)

So there you go, rules are perhaps there to be broken after all, you just have to be particularly good at breaking them in the right way.

The illustrations are fabulous, mesmerising, atmospheric, involving and affecting just as the text is but there is a note of joy at the end of the book as the Gritterman throws his all into his final run, a glory run in a clapped out van by a clapped out man showing the world that sometimes the human story at the heart of something seemingly so simple can be a complex and amazing tapestry of a story.

As an aside, I couldn't help thinking about that old Deacon Blue song "Dignity" for some reason while reading this. Perhaps something of an inspiration?

We have everything crossed that this book is a huge success. Firstly because it deftly smashes through the picture book rules and gives children Charlotte's age a bit more 'meat' than other picture books (it's almost like a graphic novel really) - with a hefty word count but words not wasted.

Secondly, it does rather put the boot into the notion that 'celebrities' can't write children's stories. Certainly Orlando's life as an art grad wasn't wasted (Brighton really is a fantastic crucible for cooking up amazingly creative people - I should know).

Thirdly, it addresses so many important issues that there's truly something in here for whatever cause you feel is important to you. The way the world is warming up, ever more evident year on year as summers stretch on and winters are milder. The way people's jobs are yanked out from under them as soon as funding is cut, and the way we treat our older generation - quite often very poorly.

Book of the week? Of course it is, how could it not be?

Charlotte's best bit: Imagining the Gritterman's poor old van lurching on for one final mission

Daddy's favourite bit: A truly unique book that breaks a ton of picture book rules, makes a ton of its own up, and ends up being one of the most affecting and involving stories we've read in a long time. Superb.

(kindly supplied for review)

"The Gritterman" by Orlando Weeks is out now, published by Particular Books.