Review of the Day – Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable
Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths
By Graham Annable
First Second (an imprint of Roaring Brook Press)
On shelves now
To quote the wise words of MC Scat Kat, “opposites attract”. Particularly when those opposites are best buddies. The idea of the carefree soul, untethered by earthly woes, paired with a perpetually concerned best friend, is a staple in all possible forms of entertainment. Children’s literature is no exception. At its best this kind of pairing will introduce us to characters like Frog and Toad. But Lobel, for all his charms, set a pretty high bar with that book. How likely is it that lightning of this sort could strike twice? Well, I’m not going to tell you that Peter & Ernesto is the next Frog and Toad or anything quite like that. For one thing, it’s a graphic novel, not a series of easy books containing short chapters. For another, it’s a single story, not a bunch of little ones. But if you’re looking for that same level of friendship, compassion, and bite-sized adventuring, I don’t think you’d be kooky to check out the latest from Graham Annable. Who knew sloths had so much pep?
Why are sloths so slow? Because they’re content, of course. Peter is anyway. He’s got his favorite tree. He’s got his favorite activity (figuring out shapes in different clouds). He’s got his singing talent. And he has his best friend Ernesto. That is, he HAD his best friend Ernesto. The trouble is that Ernesto isn’t as content with his lot in life as Peter. It’s not enough for him that he gets to see one little patch of sky. He wants to travel all over the world to find other patches of sky, over deserts and mountains and water and ice. So Ernesto takes off, leaving a gutted Peter behind. Now Peter is determined to find his friend and to take him home. But will Ernesto even want to return? And, more importantly, how is Peter going to find him at all?
When I read the book I was enthralled, but now that I’ve managed to produce two small literary critics I figured I should try it out on them before taking a crack at a review. My 7-year-old daughter listened faithfully, as did my 4-year-old boy. When it was done they were thoughtful. Then my daughter remarked, “It’s not very funny, is it?” It was an interesting point, actually. There’s humor in it, certainly, but it’s not a gag-forward telling. Mr. Annable isn’t going for slapstick comedy or big goofy moments. There was one moment that I caught my kids off-guard and made them laugh, and that was when the monkeys were going about calling for their friend Dave. “Dave” is an inherently funny name. The Minions movies figured this out long ago, and this book does to. Something about the single syllable nature of it, I think. At any rate, I wouldn’t peg this book as a laugh-a-minute gigglefest, but there’s a quiet, understated humor to it that’s really going to appeal to the kid that just wants a good story with expressive, interesting characters.
Here. Come with me now. I want to show you the exact moment I fell in love with this book. It’ll only take a second. Have a seat. Comfy? Okay, so let’s look at the two-page spread that goes over pages four and five. Mr. Annable, knowing as he did that he only had 119 pages to work with, makes quick work of setting the plot it motion right at the story’s start. Fair enough, but because he knows what he is doing he actually manages to show, rather than tell, when a character is having a change of heart. On these two pages our hero sloths are admiring various cloud formations. Overcome with the beauty of the moment, Peter bursts into song about how nothing ever changes and nothing ever will. He seems really juiced by this realization. Ernesto, meanwhile, is having a sudden dark night of the soul. All you really need to do here is watch his eyes. He goes from easygoing contentment to slow, dawning sorrow. With just the slightest of lines under one eye and pupils that shift downward in thought, the artist has created an inciting incident that’s entirely internal, but also obvious to any reader less oblivious than Peter.
I think, in my old age, I’ve decided that it isn’t as important that a child reader find a character likable as it is that they find them relatable. And for many, I believe that Ernesto will be the sloth kids aspire to be while Peter is the sloth they identify with most closely. It stands to reason. Peter loves familiarity and routine. So do kids (younger ones anyway). But as children age they become more like Ernesto, eager to see the world and find their place in it. Maybe that’s the secret to this kind of buddy pairing. It’s the two sides of childhood. The first part that longs for safety and stability and the second part that just wants to get away.
Graham Annable. Graham . . . Graham Annable. Shoot. How the heck do I know that name? It was driving me crazy for a while. It wasn’t because I knew his adult books like Stickleback or The Book of Grickle. But as I may have mentioned, there’s that way he draws eyes. It’s like nothing else I’d ever seen. That’s when it struck me. Eyes, eh? And this is a book from First Second? It only took me a moment to rush over and check my copy of Fairy Tale Comics: Classic Tales Told by Extraordinary Comics published in 2013. A quick check inside and lo and behold I was right. About five years ago Mr. Annable was last seen illustrating a wordless telling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. In that tale the bears are almost entirely eyes. Eyes that, to the infinite amusement of my children, don’t really change expression much in the course of the tale. He’s worked primarily in the world of adult comics, so I hope Peter & Ernesto is a sign of further things to come in the kid sphere.
If I were to compare Peter & Ernesto’s style to any other series or artist, the closest I’d come up with would be Sara Varon. Books like Robot Dreams and the more recent New Shoes sport the same easygoing vibe as Annable’s. These are graphic novels for those kids that don’t need big action set pieces, bloody battles, or robot wars to retain their interest. If the children’s comic world was like the movie world, Peter & Ernesto would below in the indie film category. It’s quiet and touching. A story of friendship and finding what it is that you love in this world, even as you continue to love what you’ve left behind. Sweet and honest, with a magnificent ability to show rather than tell, Peter & Ernesto’s first adventure is just the right speed for just the right reader. Find it and hand it over to that kid today.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Under the Jacket Discovery:
Lift up the jacket and you’ll find this little beauty on the front cover.
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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