Nine’s a funny age. You’re all about joining the older kids, reading their chapter books, and playing their games. So there’s that. On the other hand, you still have a real appreciation for truly kid-like things. You want to simultaneously grow up and remain a child. You might visit a library one day and request a book of “scary stories” only to find that Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a bit much for you. With that in mind, people are going to pick up Kelly DiPucchio’s Sipping Spiders Through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters and wonder who the intended audience is. The songs, or mock-songs, are fun but the pictures walk the line between the funny and the truly disgusting, sometimes falling all the way one way or the other. I tell you now that this is a picture book for the kids who are on the cusp of denying they like books with 32 pages or less and are still comfortable getting a picture book that mixes humor with pictures that wrap the funny into the scary into the anarchic into the cool.
Basically you take your basic campfire songs. Your “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”s and your “Do Your Ears Hang Low”s, and you notice that very few of these songs are monster-appropriate. That’s where Kelly DiPucchio and Gris Grimly come in. Rewriting the whole campfire genre, this gruesome twosome punches up the old classics with monster-friendly pictures alongside. Eighteen of the grizzly tunes are presented here with dark companion illustrations by the master of introductory Goth. They may be grossed out. They may be disgusted. One thing you readers will not be is bored.
It makes for ideal reading aloud, I can tell you. The same kids that sing that old campfire song “I’m Looking Over My Dead Dog Rover” (sung to the tune of “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”) are going to be the ones that cackle gleefully over DiPucchio’s selections and Grimly’s naughty pics. Full Confession: I was one of those Girl Scouts that loved a grody or dark rhyme to sing. Any child that knows all the words to “Miss Susie Had a Baby” or other naughty schoolyard chants of the same will want to bulk up their repertoire with DiPucchio’s wild song selections. Teachers and librarians won’t have any difficulty gaining the undivided attention of their students either if they partake of a little “Zombie Midge” (sung to the tune of “London Bridge”) or “Creepy, Creepy Little Jar” (“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”). And admit it. You thought the song was “My Body Lies Over the Ocean” anyway, didntcha?
I appreciated that the songs make mockeries of the usual suspects (“99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”) but also added in a couple unexpected treats. I’ve never seen an author rewrite the words to “Skinnamarink” before, but it certainly fits here with its cheery, “Slither and slink and stink and wink / Slither and stinky-doooo- / We . . . scare . . . you!” DiPucchio’s been making children’s books long enough that you don’t have to worry about whether or not the lines and phrases will scan either. There’s nothing worse than holding up a book and attempting to read/sing it to a class only to find that while you may be struggling along well enough, the author has somehow forgotten how many syllables should ideally go in each line. Not a problem here. Not a problem at all.
The pairing of Gris Grimly with DiPucchio is a fascinating one because her books are normally paired with relatively light and colorful artists. People like LeUyen Pham or Richard Egielski. Grimly’s great, sure. I mean he just paired with Neil Gaiman to bring us the world’s darkest abecedarian delight The Dangerous Alphabet. So to see him alongside DiPucchio is fascinating. It’s like adding a dollop of delicious all-natural arsenic to a cup of warm milk.
Grimly’s style when drawing for kids is a mix of the frightening and the ridiculous. While a Stephen Gammell might draw on the darkest corners of the human brain to scare the living daylights out of a child, Grimly usually includes some small detail that detracts from the overall horror. For example, in this book you may face with fear an army of frightening Boogie Men, all distorted jaws and pupilless eyes. But after a second or two it’s hard to ignore the fact that they are standing in front of you in their underwear. And come to think of it, these guys could stand to cut down on their carbs. A Boogie Man, for all his power, is somehow less threatening when there’s a beer belly to contend with. Making use of his usual watercolors, Grimly appears to be employing a little mixed media here as well. I’m not sure if that’s new for this illustrator or not, but certainly the doily that accompanies the jar of a pickled something-something is of this world.
You will find, o gentle viewers, that when a concerned parent comes up to you about this book it will not be because of the text. Certainly the words will say “Do Your Guts Hang Low” and the artist would have had to have been a timid timmy indeed to avoid drawing intestines, but the blame is still gonna rest with the pics of splayed internal organs. And there will be complaints somewhere. Don’t let it bother you. Heck, people will complain about the dead elephant in The Story of Babar if you let them. Just ride it out, read them an amusing poem, and if they’re still not convinced hand them a Mary Engelbreit title to keep the peace.
The obvious pairing of this book is with similarly rhyming monster-laden picture books. Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and its companion piece Frankenstein Takes the Cake are fond of original poems (though Rex is happy to rewrite “It’s a Small World” or a little Edgar Allen Poe if the mood hits) and use a broader variety of different art styles than what you’ll find here. Both, however, offer ghoulies and ghosties for the child masses, and if a kid is howling for more Frankenstein then this is the best possible companion piece for that particular tot. Grosser and darker than a lot of the usual picture book fare, it’s bound to have its fans and detractors by turns. For that special kid, however, this is gonna be beloved (to say nothing of that special teacher/librarian too).
On shelves now.
Here’s an interview where Mr. Grimly talks about some of the troubles he’s had with this book.
Here’s his not always kid-friendly website.
And here’s Kelly DiPucchio’s website too.