The Worst Book Ever by Elise Gravel, 48 pp, RL 2
The Worst Book Ever by Elise Gravel
Review Copy from Drawn + Quarterly
A spider, a blob and a fuzzy thing provide a running commentary on The Worst Book ever, calling out the spelling errors, bad illustrations, potty humor, inappropriate content like kissing and advertising for soda, gender stereotypes, and sexist representations of female characters. Increasingly serious stuff for such a silly, highly readable, laugh-out-loud book. Yes, this book is meant to be fun, but it is also meant to make readers think.
The Worst Book Ever begins in a far away land where a "beautiful prinsess and a brave prinse" live in a magnificent castle. Barbarotte and Putrick (seriously BEST NAMES EVER) are part of an uneventful story that drags on and on, the commentators noting the repetitive and boring descriptions and limited vocabulary. Eventually, a monster arrives on the seen, threatening to eat Barbarotte while screaming, "RHAAA! Poopie peepee FART BOOGER!" Putrick comes to save the princess, with the commentators exclaiming, "Barbarotte barely had any dialogue in the whole story - the author finally gives her some and it's this?" and, "Come on, Barbarotte! It's not 1850! You don't need a man to save you!" As the book draws to a close, Putrick being knighted by his father, King Pubert, the commentators notice that all the characters in this book look the same, "There's no diversity at all!" With the worst of all endings (it was just a dream) the commentators continue on after "The End," including a list of all the words in the text that were spelled incorrectly.
If you are familiar with the work of Elise Gravel and follow her blog, then you know that this Montreal author who writes in both French and English, is socially and emotionally conscious, inclusive and intelligent. She does not talk down to young readers. Of The Worst Book Ever, she says, it "looks stupid, but teaches critical thinking. The kids think they're having a good time, but they're learning. Which is what I'm trying to do in most of my books - trick them into learning stuff." Gravel is clearly trying to get readers thinking about societal norms, stereotypes and common assumptions we make without even thinking. Cheeky to the end, on the informational page where the publisher and copyright information appear, Gravel tucked this endorsement, "Additional support provided by Kiki-Cola. Get your muscles BIG!"
Without trickery, Gravel generously creates informational posters that she shares for free. They cover a range of topics, from "All Kinds of Families," to women scientists, autism, consent, feelings and more. Below are two of her newest posters.
You can also buy signed prints of her work (as she says, "I also need to sell some of my art sometimes if I want to keep making free stuff.") here. I bought myself this print for my birthday last year -
A few books by Elise Gravel: