Necks Out for Adventure!
By Timothy Basil Ering
On shelves now
The author/illustrator of a picture book who isn’t afraid to get a little weird is precisely the kind of person you want to have within your reach. Day after day my library purchases and buys familiar titles. Here are two more first day of school books. Oh look, there’s another new puppy story. And yup, here’s a nice little bully tale. These titles are all useful and they certainly fulfill a need but after a while you wish that you could give the kids a little more. Something a little wild and wacky with an irreverent near-psychotic glee to the whole kerschmozzle. Enter Timothy Basil Ering. Any author can take a walk on the seashore and think, "Clams! I should do a clam story." But hardly anyone would take it a step further and say, "I should do a story where a clam shucks off his own shell and sallies forth into the greater world!!!" Credit Mr. Ering then with going where no clammy taleteller has gone before; Onward.
As any wiggleskin will tell you, life is simple. Necks out for tasty food items that float on past. Necks in whenever danger/the unknown/odd looking shadows appear. Everyone follows this pattern, except perhaps Edwin. Where others stick in their necks unquestioningly, Edwin has the foolish gall to ask questions like, "What would happen if we flowed with the current?" The young wiggleskin has the chance to find out, though, when a hungry hornly scratcher with big smelly feet walks into the wiggleskins’ world and steals away everyone except for Edwin. Alone and on his own, Edwin shucks off his own shell, follows the current, locates his family, and rescues them with ingenuity and a peculiar way of doing things.
I’m not going to confess to you how long it took me to figure out whether or not the wiggleskins in this book were clams, oysters, or mussels. The story itself does not say, nor does any summary you will find online. Really, it wasn’t until I flipped to the author bio on the back flap that I read that Mr. Ering wrote this story after clamming with his brother. "I watched a clam disappear into the mud and I realized that clams and people have something in common: both miss out on exciting things when they tuck their necks in and hide." If you think about it then, Mr. Ering and his brother are the nasty hornly scratcher in this book. Huh! Not every author turns himself into a villain, but if it yields books as good as this one, maybe more should try.
Some authors look at influences like Dr. Seuss, see what he did with funny funky names, and then try to emulate him in the worst way. They’ll fill their books to brimming with long ridiculous names and convoluted, tortured English. Maybe part of what I admired so much about Ering’s words in this book was his restraint. Yes, there is the occasional funny phrase here. We have "wiggleskins", a "hornly scratcher", a "red-spotted scrintalberry leaf", "squid-bellied lice", and finally "glimmering golden-eyed silverstones." But by and large Ering keeps his loony descriptions to the absolute minimum. It’s like having songs in a musical. If the songs enhance the action on the stage then they are necessary to the story. Likewise, if Ering’s loony words add to the feel of the book and the very taste of the language, then they are more than necessary. They are essential, just so long as you don’t overdo it.
As for the art, Ering’s style feels like a combination of Dr. Seuss, Ronald Searle, William Steig, and Ralph Steadman. It has a manic edge to it. There’s so much wiggliness and movement that you half-expect the characters to suddenly burst from the page and run screaming down the hallway of your home. Done in inks and acrylics, Ering supplements his sketchy style with beautiful colors of the ocean. These then are spotted with drops and splashes of hues that can show everything from the waves of the ocean to the nastiness of the hornly scratcher’s hut. The endpapers are pretty impressive too. On the front endpapers we see the footprints of the nasty hornly scratcher. Odor is still emanating from the prints of his nasty bare feet and an unfortunate shelled critter is bearing the brunt of the smell. At the same time, the view on the next page is a rather lovely Impressionist image of an ocean beach, sandy dunes above. All in all, Ering’s is a style so unique that it demanded that he create his own wholly original font. Flip to the publication page of this book sometime. See that cool font that is reflected throughout the entire book, all the way to the book flaps? See the name of it? "Tim Ering". Clever boy.
Speaking of clever, it was particularly smart of Mr. Ering to give Edwin that scrintalberry leaf. Ering has created a world in which one wiggleskin pretty much looks like another wiggleskin. Some may have slightly more expressive eyebrows than the others, but for the most part they are identical. So when Edwin convinces his tribe to shuck off their own shells and make a break for it, how on earth are we supposed to identify him the midst of the mass exodus? Enter one scrintalberry leaf. It’s yellow with bright orange spots and in a way it’s so important to the action that Ering has chosen to place it front and center on the cover, for maximum efficiency.
So, let’s see. It’s fun to read, has a great (weird) little story, and looks like nothing you’ve seen before. Basically this is a book with a good little heart. If you want to get something for a young `un that falls outside the usual dull tales and skews a little wacky at times, "Necks out for Adventure", is undoubtedly your best choice. Consider it a great tale for the beach, whatever the season.
Blog Reviews: Be sure to check out the particularly impressive one on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Misc: View a video of Timothy Basil Ering at work. Just click on the words watch more about Necks Out for Adventure on the right-hand side of the screen.