Benjamin Chaud: You Know Him. You Just Don’t Know You Know Him.
Tell me and tell me true, what do the following have in common?
From the title of this post you have no doubt concluded that they all share the same illustrator. However, had you asked me prior to my recent meeting with French artist Benjamin Chaud, I don’t know that it would have necessarily occurred to me.
Over the years I’ve noticed Chaud’s work, but only in the vaguest possible sense. You see, I’m a big fan of the Pomelo books by Ramona Badescu, published by Enchanted Lion Books here in NYC. Each title stars an odd pink elephant-type of character. Pomelo is a strange little fellow, and I do mean little since his best friends include snails and dandelions. He also sports a hopeless crush on a frog in a case of unrequited pachyderm/amphibian love. Kermit and Piggy have nothing on Pomelo. The books that have made it to American shores include:
But my favorite by far has to be . . .
Because, quite frankly, if you want the kookiest opposite book of all time, this is it, folks.
Well, I was pleased as punch to learn that Mssr. Chaud was in town for ten days, visiting the States and the kids that are here. I swear, when Herve Tullet moves to Brooklyn he’d better embrace a role as host for all his incoming countrymen. Publisher Claudia Zoe Bedrick invited me to nosh and meet Benjamin and so we did! At Le Pain Quotidien, no less.
So what does your typical French artist do when visiting New York City? Well there’s MOMA, of course. And Central Park. There’s Rockefeller Center and bookstores like Book Court and, naturally, NYPL’s current exhibit The ABC of It. But the best part was hearing about his visits with the kids. Chaud took a trip to The Lycée Français de New York, a bilingual school for kids of all ages. While there he met with 106 “very enthusiastic” children and created art with them. And here we can see the results of his visit to Book Court:
As you can see, Pomelo comes easily to the man’s pencil tip. So easy, in fact, that he had time to create some fun little off-the-wall images of Pomelo in his own shoes:
I love these.
Talking about Pomelo naturally lead to a discussion of the differences between French and American picture books. Claudia had some interesting things to say about the changes made to the aforementioned Pomelo’s Opposites when bringing to the book to the States. We talked about changing certain images from “good” and “bad” to “right” and “wrong”. Or why the opposite of cucurbit made the final cut. And we talked about Pomelo himself and his journey. Since his true author is Ramona Badescu this was all conjecture, but we talked about what it would mean if in his last book he went so far as to die. And then we got to thinking about picture book characters in series and if any of them have ever died. At the time I couldn’t come up with any, but since then I was able to think up one. The Sally books by Stephen Huneck followed a Labrador on various adventures, finally ending with Sally Goes to Heaven. But it’s a bit of a rarity.
So we talked about the approach of death in various books for small children. The European picture books have a comfort level with death and dying we lack here in the States. Here in the U.S. you can discuss death, but only if it is the ONLY topic at hand. In other countries, death can be far more of the narrative. It was an illuminating conversation, worthy of a post in and of itself.
In the end, I bid farewell to Benjamin Chaud and thanked him for his time. With the latest Pomelo book out this year (Pomelo’s Big Adventure) as well as a sequel to last year’s The Bear’s Song (you can see it in my recent Chronicle librarian preview) he’s certainly slated to become better and better known. And for that, I am well and truly pleased.
Thanks to Claudia for the meeting and to Benjamin for being willing to meet.
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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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