Review of the Day: Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
I eye Bink and Gollie across the room with a slow reptilian stare. I yell at it, “I refuse to be charmed by you!” I throw a shoe. Bink and Gollie, to its credit, does not allow itself to be sucked into my childish behavior. I edge a little closer. I cry, “I know your pictures are amazing and your writing manages to be loquacious without being precious but I am not fooled!” I throw my other shoe, which unfortunately means that I am now without shoes. Bink and Gollie is now looking at me with a mixture of amusement and pity. I fall to my knees and crawl forward. When I’m close enough I whisper, “I lied. You’re amazing. You’re everything a person would want in a children’s book. You’re the best thing I’ve ever seen.” I succumb. Bink and Gollie strokes my hair as I cry uncontrollably, but it knows I am telling the truth. It really is the best thing ever. And what’s more, it’s a book like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Nothing. Ever. Seen. Trust me on this one. I see a lot of books.
Put together two Minnesotans and one animator and what do you get? Bink and Gollie, of course. Bink is a diminutive pixie, all wild blond hair and a penchant for falling madly in love with things. Gollie, in contrast, is a staid and measured companion, unwilling to be pulled into Bink’s obsessions if she can possibly help it. The two are best friends and in this book we are treated to three of their adventures. In the first, Bink falls head over heels for a pair of brightly colored socks that irk Gollie to the extreme. A compromise must be reached. In the second tale Gollie is determined to scale the heights of the Andes Mountains in her living room but finds it difficult to do so when Bink keeps knocking on her front door. In the third, Bink becomes enamored of a goldfish. Gollie cannot see its appeal, but when a terrible accident occurs she’s the one who knows exactly what to do. If you seek marvelous companions, look no further than the tales you’ll find here.
The great pairings of children’s literature involve friends with differences. Danny and his dinosaur. Houndsley and Catina. Elephant and Piggie. George and Martha. But the greatest of all these and the standard bearers if you will, are undoubtedly Frog and Toad. There’s something about their particular combination of exasperation and affection that rings true. Until now, I’ve seen few few very few characters that tap into that same feeling, and it is interesting to me that Bink & Gollie would be one of the most successful. On the surface, there are some distinct differences from Lobel’s classic work. While he never included a word more difficult to read than “button” in his books, DiCamillo and McGhee revel in delicious words like “bonanza”, “outrageous”, “implore”, “ventured”, and “marvelous”, but to name a few. That said, it’s all about tone. The back and forth between Bink and Gollie rings so true that you are given the immediate impression that not only are these two girls real people but that they have been friends for years and know one another well. You get that feeling from Frog and Toad too, you know. With a minimum of words, you’re convinced of their world from page one onward. No mean feat.
As for the girls themselves, I don’t think I’ve ever really seen characters like this before. Bink is short, blond, and sports a permanently pleated skirt. It takes noticing that skirt to realize that Bink is a girl at all, sometimes. She sports a Struwwelpeter-worthy head of hair that could easily be ascribed to either gender. Gollie, in contrast, appears to be older. She’s tall, thin, oft seen wearing knee-length pants with black tights underneath (explaining, in some ways, her visceral objection to Bink’s colorful footwear). If there is an age difference between them, Gollie is too good natured to let it get in the way of their friendship. True, she often tries to impose her opinions on Bink (your socks are too bright, your fish is not marvelous, etc.) but this usually meets with the brick wall of Bink’s obsessions. Bink loves Gollie, but is perfectly aware that Gollie’s opinion is not the be all and end all of creation itself.
Maybe what I love most about them is that these girls are allowed to do things that traditionally boys do in children’s literature. Gollie is inclined to pretend that she is explorer scaling the icy heights of the Andes Mountains. Both love roller skating and ice skating for fun. They’re active gals. And sure, they engage in traditional girly things like cooking and gardening, but I like that they’re given options outside of the usual let’s-play-princess mindset. If Bink wears shoes, she wears sneakers. There’s something to be said for that.
The universe Bink and Gollie occupy could only exist in children’s literature. Not since the days of Winnie-the-Pooh have characters lived in such individual and striking homes. Bink and Gollie partake of that childhood fantasy of a world without adults. At the foot of a large tree is Bink’s home, all cozy and warm and tended. More cottage than house, really. On the top of the tree is Gollie’s ultra-mod swinging pad, outfitted inside with sleek furniture and nonrepresentational art. And don’t think to yourself that these tales take place while the grown-ups are away, either. You’ll notice in the scene where Bink is digging carrots out of her garden that everything about her house is Bink-sized. Everything from the height of the windows to the size of the garbage can is made for Bink Bink Bink. You never really question this world either. Heck, I had to read the book four or five times before I even noticed it at all. Somehow, it makes perfect sense in context. An parent’s presence would ruin the entire effect.
Like a whole host of new illustrators these days, we owe the existence of the illustrator, one Mr. Fucile, to his work on films as an animator. His first title for kids was the rather nice Let’s Do Nothing which was a picture book about two boys attempting the impossible. It was a fine debut, but I little suspected the man capable of the visual splendor that is Bink and Gollie. Because, you see, while madams DiCamillo and McGhee give these girls their very particular, very distinctive voices, it is Mr. Fucile who makes you fall in love with them. Our very first view of Bink, aside from the cover and chapter page, is of her sitting in a chair cross-legged, cordless phone in one hand, spoonful of peanut butter in the other, jar nestled nicely between her sneaker-footed legs. Gollie, in contrast, is seen all akimbo legs, phone gripped in one hand, and a second holding a book, clawlike above her head. By the time you read the lines, “Greetings, Bink… I long for speed,” it’s done. You’re charmed.
It is clear from here on in that you are nestled squarely in the palm of Mr. Fucile’s hand. He knows when to make Bink just a nose above a desk, asking for information. Or how exactly to show Gollie spilling pancake batter all over her griddle. And the emotional beats resonate. When Bink accuses Gollie of being jealous of her fish, Fred, you see Gollie suddenly vulnerable. Her hands held before her, her eyes staring off into space. Her right eyebrow hints at the truth behind Bink’s statement, and certainly the reader is left with little doubt. It’s amazing. With just the tiniest strokes of his pen, Fucile turns a potentially tragic scene into a heroic one and then immediately into one of great poignancy. Fair play to the man.
Note too the use of color! Much of this book is left in black and white, but Fucile knows precisely when these layouts would best be served by a dash of hue here and there. Though the seasons change between each chapter, somehow you never feel that the colorless summer is the same as the colorless fall. It’s all in the shading. Some folks I know have also mistaken this book for a graphic novel, and I think I know why this is. It’s not because there are any speech balloons to be seen, but rather because Fucile is adept at breaking up his space. One moment you’re looking at a two-page spread of a darkened theater watching a film and the next the action has been split into three long panels showing exactly how Bink trips and falls over a rock in the road. We’re not used to our children’s books working the layouts like this. Clearly Fucile’s past experience with storyboards is coming in handy these days.
One is left wondering to what extent Mr. Fucile came up with the book’s details and to what extent he created them out of his own brain. Was he told to give the Eccles’ Empire of Enchantment that particular air of treasure hunting mixed with a tinge of despair? Was he told that Bink was a creature of peanut butter and to add that element in when appropriate while Gollie belonged squarely on the pancake side of things? Was he instructed that rather than cell phones, Bink and Gollie use white cordless landlines? Was he asked to make Bink’s scarf at the end of the book the second bright sock purchased at the beginning of the book? And on top of all that he includes little things you might not notice except on a fourth or fifth read. When Gollie decides to give Bink half her pancakes, notice that she gave Bink the much taller stack. And when a besotted Bink agrees to hang out with Gollie, she is holding her phone out so that Fred the fish can hear the news as well.
Now comes the difficult part for the children’s librarian that reads this book. Mainly, where the heckedy heck do you put it in your children’s room? It has three distinct chapters and comes in at 6 3/8” X 9 1/2”. A picture book, it is not. However, as I mentioned before, it has outsized words in its sentences and comes in at a whopping 96 pages. Easy reader it is not. That said, there are very big pictures in this book, and hardly more than a couple sentences per page. So chapter book it is not. So where do you put it? My suggestion is that you create a Bink and Gollie section in your library. Clear a whole shelf off in your room and display your copies of this book proudly. And then, in the future, when there are many many more Bink and Gollie adventures to be added (as there had better be or you will hear me shrieking loudly in the streets outside of the Candlewick publishing offices) you can just buy enough copies to fill the shelf up. Slap your hands together, problem solved.
I keep very few of the books that I’m sent by publishers for review. In 2010 alone I think I’ve kept only the books signed to me alongside, Meanwhile, and A Sick Day for Amos McGee. I can now add Bink and Gollie to that list. I don’t know where in the library you’d ever put it but put it in your library, both public and personal, you must. There’s something about this book that utterly defies any and all expectations. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be hypnotized by the sheer charm of these stories. All we can do now is own it, give it to all the small children we know, and clamor to the creators like little Oliver Twist parrots. Please m’ams and sirs . . . we’d like some more!
On shelves September 14th.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
- Two stars, one from Kirkus and one from Publishers Weekly
- School Library Journal
- TimeOut New York Kids
- Both authors spoke with BookPage.
- Read a sample chapter should you wish to get the gist of this. And if you like PDFs.
- Some background information from the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells us that Tony Fucile used childhood pictures of the authors for the look of Bink and Gollie (see the photos in question in the BookPage interview). Other info includes insight into the authors’ writing process and an enticing mention of an upcoming rerelease of Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
- There’s a website for the book as well.
- Indeed, this is the book trailer for the title, but I should warn you. The chapter that you see here has been abridged. This is not the full chapter in all its entirety, and I think that you should really see the full thing to get the true gist of what’s going on here. Otherwise, no objections.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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