The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip - George Saunders, illus. Lane Smith

I originally reviewed this back in 2003, but I re-read it this year as part of my Stories About Girls posts for GeekDad, and wrote this new review.

I found this years ago at a going-out-of-business sale—the bizarre title caught my eye, as did the translucent dust jacket with the weird, googly-eyed orange hairball on it, and the over-tall format. I hadn’t read much by George Saunders but I was a fan of Lane Smith’s art, so I picked it up and flipped through it. It’s a kids’ book, sort of. It has a lot more words in it (and at 84 pages is much longer) than a typical picture book, but it has a lot more pictures (and is much shorter) than, say, a chapter book. It’s a story that feels like a fable, appropriate for kids but enjoyable for adults.

Frip is a strange little town with an unusual problem: gappers. Gappers kind of like a big burr, “about the size of a baseball, bright orange, with multiple eyes like the eyes on a potato.” And they also love to stick to goats—and when they find one and stick to it, they’re so pleased that they shriek, which then makes it impossible for the goats to sleep or rest or produce milk. So in the town of Frip (which raises goats) the children have an unenviable job: gapper-brushing. They brush the gappers off, put them in gapper sacks and dump them in the sea, from whence the gappers inch their way back to the goats.

The main character is a little girl named Capable who has problems to deal with aside from the gappers. Her father hasn’t been the same since her mother died and is incapable of dealing with change. Not only that, but her house is the closest to the sea and eventually the gappers discover that they don’t have to go quite as far if they just stick to Capable’s goats.

I won’t spoil the rest of the story, but I can tell you this much: the other two families in Frip (who have two kids each) are, as in many fairy tales, unhelpful and unsympathetic. They come up with excuses for why they can’t help Capable, and when they fall into their own misfortunes, deal with it in unproductive ways. Capable, on the other hand, lives up to her name and is an excellent example of resourcefulness, compassion and responsibility.

And, as with most fairy tales, things do work out in the end. Unlike most fairy tales, though, this book is hilarious. Saunders writes about absurd people and absurd things (like gappers) in a matter-of-fact tone, and Smith’s illustrations are wonderful. From the gloomy seaside town of Frip to the various townsfolk to the poor, put-upon goats, the illustrations are a treat for the eyes and are a perfect accompaniment to Saunders’ surreal tale.

Although I’ve rated this book for ages “7-12,” it’s really probably an all ages book. Younger kids will need somebody to read it to them but will enjoy the pictures, of which there are plenty. Older kids and adults will get more of the jokes and the satire.

Fed to jonathan's brain | February 09, 2011 | Comments (0)


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