HIC! by Anushka Ravishankar, ill. Christiane Pieper
Ladies and gentlemen I ask you, and I ask you truly, can you think of a more international childhood experience than the hiccups? Here we have an unwanted occurrence that comes to every nation in the world. Hiccups care not for nationalities. They treat the poor and rich with equal contempt (you cannot buy your way out of the hiccups, no matter how hard you try). And they make for perfect simultaneous picture book publications in multiple countries. In “HIC!” by Anushka Ravishankar and Christiane Pieper, author and illustrator together play up the hilarious attempts and failures of one little girl to rid herself of those dire, distressing, dumbfounding hiccups. The result is funny and oddly beautiful all at once.
“Eight Ways to Get Rid of Hiccups” says the book. A young girl takes its lessons to heart, even as she is afflicted by the dire malady herself. What to do? “Drink a pail of water, standing on a brick.” Does it work? “HIC!” Maybe not. How about, “Put some mustard in your nose which then proceed to lick.” Wait for it. “HIC!” With each bit of advice the girl’s hiccups reach magnificent momentous heights. Whole cityscapes are left panicked by the sheer force of her hiccups alone. And yet, when she tries to, “Eat twelve carrots, sixteen beans and one cinnamon stick” it looks like she may have cracked it. Or has she?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love love love diverse books for kids that are fun, funny, and make kids laugh. 2017 has actually been a shockingly good year for such titles. Whether we’re talking about the Inuit “What’s My Superpower?” by Aviaq Johnston and Inhabit Media or “Jake the Fake Keeps It Real” by Craig Robinson, funny books featuring kids from an array of religions, ethnicities, genders, etc. are definitely on the upswing. “HIC!” is in good company, then. In this book, you won’t have to wade through informative text explaining the world in which it takes place. This book makes the natural assumption that you’re already familiar with everyday life in India. And if you’re not? You’ll feel like you’ve lived there your entire life with each read.
Funny books for kids are one thing. But how many funny books do you run across on a regular basis that are also just jaw-droppingly beautiful as well? The publisher Tara Books has always makes it clear that their books are hand bound in their “book making workshop”. They are consistent on this point, and it applies as much to “HIC!” as any other book in their roster. Pieper’s art is rendered in black, blue, and yellow inks only (with a dot of red on the cover). The crazy thing is that until I tried to count the number of colors in the palette, I didn’t really notice how few there were. In the old days of children’s books publishing, it was economical to keep colors to a bare minimum. Think of the blue ink of “Blueberries for Sal” or the black and white “Millions of Cats”. It doesn’t matter that they don’t take advantage of every hue that tumbles their way. The storytelling is so strong that they have survived long after their contemporaries and creators. The same can be said for “HIC!” You’re so wrapped up in the story and art that you completely fail to notice how few colors there are.
As for the technique of applying them to the page, the publication page states that the book, “has been printed on a Risograph. This eco-friendly printing system uses organic, soy-based inks, and combines the technology of screen printing with a photocopier machine. The colours are transparent, so they interact with each other, and the result is a unique textural experience. Each page can turn out a little differently, so no two books are identical.” Let’s unpack this statement a little. Basically, Tara Books has found a way to incorporate the craft movement into standardized book publishing. It is, in no small way, the best of both worlds. You get the sophistication and standardization of 21st century children’s book publishing with the handmade care and attention of a master craftsman. Without reading the publication page you’d still enjoy the book, and have no clue as to its quality and pedigree.
I mean, let’s just break this down into its most essential parts. Funny story. Exciting art full of movement. Limited color palette. Hand bound title (for maximum quality). Setting we haven’t seen in half a million picture books before. Gentle readers, we have a winner. “HIC!” won’t win any major awards here in the States, but if I had one I’d award it the biggest and shiniest one for readaloud humor I could get my hands on. This book is one cool customer. Eat it up.
On shelves now.
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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