Review of the Day: No Fits, Nilson! by Zachariah Ohora
The small child is a frightening beast. A truly terrifying creature that can level the most powerful adult with the mere pitch of their fury laden screams. As a children’s librarian I used to tell my husband that mine was one of the few jobs I knew where an average day was punctuated by human sobs and screams of terror, misery, and fury. What then is the reasoning behind the idea that you should read a child a book about a fellow kiddo having a meltdown? Well, kids can get a lot out of that kind of identification. They can put themselves into the role of the parent, to a certain extent. Or maybe it’s just good old schadenfreude. Better her than me, eh? Whatever the reasoning, meltdowns make for good picture book fodder. Add in a giant blue gorilla with a penchant for wristwear and you’ve got yourself a picture book as fine as fish hair. A treat to eye and ear alike, Ohora is truly coming into his own with a book that truly has universal appeal. And a gorilla. But I repeat myself.
Amelia and Nilson are inseparable. They play together, eat together, and with some exceptions (Nilson is afraid of water so no baths) they’re never out of one another’s sight. The fact that Amelia is a little girl and Nilson a gigantic blue gorilla? Not an issue. What is an issue is the fact that Nilson has a terribly short fuse. Good thing Amelia knows exactly what to do to calm him down. Don’t want to go with mom to do chores? Amelia calls them adventures instead. Nilson’s getting testy waiting in line at the post office? Amelia hands him her froggy purse. It’s the moment that Nilson gets the the last banana ice cream that Amelia’s composure finally breaks down. Now she’s the one who’s upset. Fortunately, Nilson knows the perfect way to make everything right again.
When we think of the great tantrum picture books out there, the mind immediately leaps to the be all and end all of fits, When Sophie Gets Angry Really Really Angry by Molly Bang. That book sort of set the standards for meltdown lit. It’s simple, it gets to the point, it teaches colors (though that’s more a nice bonus rather than anything else). After Sophie authors tried to come up with different unique takes on a common occurrence. Rosemary Wells came up with Miracle Melts Down, Robie Harris dared to discuss the unmentionable in The Day Leo Said “I Hate You “. And who could forget David Elliott’s truly terrifying Finn Throws a Fit? In the end, this book is almost an older version of Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (it involves preschooler fits rather than toddler fits, which as any parent will tell you are a different beast entirely). But part of what I like most about No Fits, Nilson! is that it sort of harkens back to the early days of Sophie. Ohora makes a metaphor out of the familiar and in doing so makes it even more understandable than it would be if his gorilla was nowhere in sight.
Ohora’s previous picture book, Stop Snoring, Bernard! was a lovely book to look upon. As an artist, the man has cultivated a kind of acrylic mastery that really does a wonderful job of bringing out the personalities of his characters within a limited color palette. However, while the art in Bernard was at times beyond stunning, his storytelling wasn’t quite there yet. It was all show without the benefit of substance. So it was a great deal of relief that I discovered that No Fits, Nilson! had remedied this little problem. Story wise, Ohora is within his element. He knows that there is no better way of describing a kid’s tantrums than a 400-pound (or so) gorilla. Most important of all, the metaphor works. Nilson is a marvelous stand-in for Amelia, until that moment of spot-on role reversal.
As I mentioned before, the acrylics threaten to become the stars of the show more than once in this book. Limiting himself to blue, red, pink, yellow/beige and green, Ohora’s is a very specific color scheme. Neo-21st century hipster. Indeed the book appears to be set in Brooklyn (though a map on one of the subways manages to crop out most of the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and half of Brooklyn, so maybe I’m reading too much into the setting). As I also mentioned before, painting beautifully is one thing, but coming up with delightful, memorable characters is what separates the RISD grads from the true picture book masters. Nilson is the one that’s going to get the kids the most excited to read this book so it was important for Ohora to make him a unique blue gorilla. Not the kind of guy you’d run into on the street. To do this, Ohora chooses to accessorize. Note the three watches Nilson wears on his left arm and the three on his right. Note his snappy black beret with the yellow trim, and yellow and black sneakers. Next, the artist has to make Nilson a gorilla prone to the grumps but that is essentially lovable in spite of them. For this, Amelia is a very good counterpoint. Her sweetness counteracts Nilson’s barely contained rage. Finally, Ohora throws in some tiny details to make the reading experience enjoyable for adults as well. The typography at work when the tiny words “banana ice cream” move from Amelia’s mouth and eyes to Nilson’s mouth and eyes is a sight to behold. Ditto the funny in-jokes on the subway (New Yorkers may be the only folks who get Ohora’s “Dr. Fuzzmore” ads, and the one for the zoo is a clear cut reference to Stop Snoring, Bernard!).
Yeah, I’m a fan. Kids may be the intended audience for books like this one, but it’s parents that are shelling out the cash to buy. That means you have to appeal to grown-up sensibilities as well as children’s. What Ohora does so well is that he knows how to tap into an appreciation for his material on both a child and adult level. This is no mean feat. Clearly the man knows where to find the picture book sweet spot. A visual feast as well as a treat to the ear, this is a book that’s going to find an audience no matter where it goes. At least it better. Otherwise I might have to sick my own 400-pound gorilla on someone, and believe me . . . you do NOT want to get him angry.
On shelves June 13th
Source: Review from f&g sent from publisher.
Like This? Then Try:
- Finn Throw a Fit by David Elliott, illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering
- When Sophie Gets Angry – Really Really Angry by Molly Bang
- Nina in That Makes Me Mad by Steven Kroll, illustrated by Hilary Knight
- The Day Leo Said, “I Hate You” by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Molly Bang
- Whence the inspiration for the book? This comparison chart should clear everything up (WARNING: CONTAINS SOME SWEET KICKS).
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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