No wolves in the walls or button-eyed parents in this story about a baby panda named Chu. Yet Gaiman builds suspense from the enigmatic opening sentence (“When Chu sneezed, bad things happened”), which frames a portrait of the roly-poly protagonist, decked out in a striped T-shirt, aviator cap, and goggles. Gaiman maximizes anxiety by having Chu visit a tranquil library (“There was old-book-dust in the air”) and a crowded diner (“There was a lot of pepper in the air”). Twice, Chu’s anxious parents ask, “Are you going to sneeze?” and itchy-nosed Chu—snapping his goggles over his eyes in preparation—does not follow through. That evening, under a big top whose performing animals echo the menagerie in Rex’s Tree Ring Circus, Chu cannot resist, and his true power is revealed. Gaiman’s comic timing gets a boost from strategic book design and from Rex’s hyperreal paintings, which emphasize Chu’s round, fuzzy form and apparent harmlessness. Gaiman and Rex deliver a classic one-two-three punch, making hay from the notion that a cuddly baby panda is not to be trusted. Ages 4–8. Agent: Merrilee Heifetz, Writers House. Illustrator’s agent: Steven Malk, Writers House. (Jan.)
“Kids will find the idea of a monstrous sneeze funny, and it may prompt some attempts of their own. Rex’s richly detailed illustrations are brimming with fantastic touches. Share this one at toddler storytime for lots of giggles, or one-on-one for spotting details in the art.”
- Peg Glisson
Gaiman sets up suspense, for the youngest of readers, with this simple opening sentence: "When Chu sneezed, bad things happened." His ever-watchful parents check on possible impending sneezes often, such as during visits to the library (dust-filled) and the neighborhood diner (where pepper abounds). At the circus, though, they are so caught up in the action that they do not hear Chu's warning that he needs to tell them something. Out comes an enormous sneeze, and the whole town feels the consequences. It looks as if a hurricane or tornado has come through! In spite of the havoc caused by Chu's sneeze, the story ends on a reassuring note, with Chu's parents tucking him into bed in their undisturbed home. Rex's slightly dreamy paintings are playfully detailed. The scenes are populated by a menagerie of anthropomorphic animals—including mice sitting in card catalog drawers, a giraffe librarian overseeing the reading room, a bald eagle eating with a hippo, a whale behind the counter, a kangaroo waiting tables, and a circus filled with every imaginable animal. The double-page spreads are packed with animals, shapes, and colors, yet Rex has composed the paintings to draw the eye to details, like the uncluttered entrance to the library, the circus ring around Chu, or the gumball machine just over his shoulder in the diner. Other pages have plenty of white space, allowing the reader to focus on the expressive faces of Chu and his parents. Gaiman's simple, predictable text pairs well with Rex's rich oils for an enchanting lapsit book. Allow plenty of time to enjoy the paintings over and over! Reviewer: Peg Glisson
School Library Journal
PreS-K—A sweet, playful tale about a small panda with an extraordinary knack for inadvertently causing trouble. Chu's parents take him on several outings one day, frequently pausing to check that the youngster doesn't have to sneeze because, as the narrator warns, "When Chu sneezed, bad things happened." Though the dusty books at the library and pepper-infused air of a restaurant don't bring on a sneezing attack, the circus results in one that not only brings down the big-top tent, but also causes pandemonium throughout the town. Despite the simple story and unembellished text, there's more than enough in the art to keep readers engaged. A roly-poly panda in aviator glasses and a green-striped T-shirt, wide-eyed Chu cuts a comically endearing figure as he contorts his body and facial expressions in anticipation of a sneeze. The locations depicted in these richly saturated painted spreads have an old-fashioned flavor, and vintage touches are visible throughout: the pillbox hat his mother sports, card catalogs at the library, a gumball machine at the diner. These prim, orderly settings are the perfect setup for the chaos that Chu introduces, and there's a mischievous sense of humor that results from placing exotic anthropomorphic animals (squids, narwhals, giraffes, wombats) onto these decidedly conventional backdrops. While children will delight in seeing such a tiny creature wreak havoc, the story still concludes on a reassuring note, with Chu's parents gently tucking him in. A small but delightful dose of fun.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal
A modest yet richly colorful day in the life of a small panda who may or may not sneeze, which may or may not be calamitous. "When Chu sneezed, bad things happened," portends the opening. Chu is an adorable panda kid in a striped T-shirt and aviator hat. Mellow white space surrounds him and his panda parents except when they arrive at the day's three destinations: the library, a diner and the circus. These settings are sumptuous spreads. Rex's oil paints showcase lights, darks and textures while populating the scenes with droll-looking animals and fine details to pore over. A circus turtle flies on a trapeze; library mice sit inside old-fashioned card-catalog drawers working on miniscule computers. Due to the library's "old-book-dust," Chu's mother knows to check: "Are you going to sneeze?"--"aah-aaah-Aaaah- / No, said Chu." That comical buildup and take back spreads across three pages, including a suspenseful page turn. At the circus, readers finally behold the power of a nasal expulsion. The climax is visually realistic yet dreamlike, with a nice, slyly deadpan ending that finds Chu's family somewhat better off than the rest of their town. The single problem with this book--potentially a deal breaker--is the use of this particular Chinese name for the sake of a sneeze pun. Weigh great art and clever story against the exploitation of the old, unfortunate cliché that Asian names sound funny. (Picture book. 2-5)
Neil Gaiman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books for readers of all ages, and the recipient of numerous literary awards, including the Shirley Jackson Award and the Locus Award for Best Novelette for his story "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains." Originally from England, he now lives in America.
Adam Rex is the author of many books, including Cold Cereal and Unlucky Charms, the first two books in the Cold Cereal Saga; the New York Times bestselling picture book Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich; the middle-grade novel The True Meaning of Smekday; and the teen novel Fat Vampire. He currently lives in Arizona with his wife.
Neil Gaiman thought he wrote comic books. But a newspaper editor, of course, set him straight.
Back when he was riding the diabolical headwinds of his popular series of graphic novels, The Sandman, the author attended a party where he introduced himself as a comic-book writer to a newspaper's literary editor. But when the editor quickly realized who this actually was -- and the glaze melted from his eyes -- he offered Gaiman a correction tinged with astonishment: "My God, man, you don't write comics, you write graphic novels." Relating the story to theLos Angeles Times in 1995, Gaiman said, "I suddenly felt like someone who had been informed that she wasn't a hooker, that in fact she was a lady of the evening."
Gaiman's done much more, of course, than simply write graphic novels, having coauthored, with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, a comic novel about the Apocalypse; adapted into hardcover the BBC miniseries Neverwhere about the dark underworld beneath the streets of London; and, inspired by his young daughter, put a horrifying spin on C.S. Lewis' wardrobe doors for Coraline, a children's book about a passageway into a magical, yet malevolent, land.
But it is The Sandman that is Gaiman's magnum opus.
Though he had told a career counselor in high school that he wanted to pen comic books, he had a career as a freelance journalist before his first graphic novel, Violent Cases, was published in England in 1987. DC Comics discovered him and The Sandman was born. Or reborn, actually. The comic debuted back in 1939 with a regular-Joe crime fighter in the lead. But in Gaiman's hands the tale had a more otherworldly spin, slowing introducing readers to the seven siblings Endless: Dream, Death, Desire, Destiny, Destruction, Despair and Delirium (once Delight). They all have their roles in shaping the fates of man. In fact, when Death was imprisoned for decades, the results were devastating. Richard Nixon reached The White House and Michael Jackson the Billboard charts.
Direction from newspaper editors notwithstanding, to Gaiman, these stories are still comic books. The man who shuttled back and forth between comics and classics in his formative years and can pepper his writing with references to Norse mythology as well as the vaudevillian rock group Queen, never cottoned to such highbrow/lowbrow distinctions. Comparing notes on a yachting excursion with members of the Irish rock band U2, the writer who looks like a rock star and Delirium and the rock stars who gave themselves comic-worthy names such as Bono and The Edge came to a realization: Whether the medium is pop music or comic books, not being taken seriously can be a plus. "It's safer to be in the gutter," he told The Washington Post in 1995.
In 1995, Gaiman brought The Sandman to a close and began spending more time on his nongraphic fiction, including a couple of short-story collections. A few years later he released Stardust, an adult fairy tale that has young Tristan Thorn searching for a fallen star to woo the lovely but cold Victoria Forester. In 2001, he placed an ex-con named Shadow in the middle of a war between the ancient and modern dieties in American Gods. Coming in October 2002 is another departure: an audio recording of Two Plays for Voices, which stars Bebe Neuwirth as a wise queen doing battle with a bloodthirsty child and Brian Dennehy as the Angel of Vengeance investigating the first crime in history in heaven's City of Angels.
Gaiman need not worry about defining his artistic relevance, since so many other seem to do it for him. Stephen King, Roger Zelazny and Harlan Ellison are among those who have contributed introductions to his works. William Gibson, the man who coined the term "cyberspace," called him a "a writer of rare perception and endless imagination" as well as "an American treasure." (Even though he's, technically, a British treasure transplanted to the American Midwest.) Even Norman Mailer has weighed in: "Along with all else, Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals, and I say it's about time."
The gushiest praise, however, may come from Frank McConnell, who barely contained himself in the pages of the political and artistic journal Commonweal. Saying Gaiman "may just be the most gifted and important storyteller in English," McConnell crowned Sandman as the most important act of fiction of the day. "And that, not just because of the brilliance and intricacy of its storytelling -- and I know few stories, outside the best of Joyce, Faulkner, and Pynchon, that are more intricate," he wrote in October 1995, " but also because it tells its wonderful and humanizing tale in a medium, comic books, still largely considered demimonde by the tenured zombies of the academic establishment."
"If Sandman is a 'comic,'" he concluded, "then The Magic Flute is a 'musical' and A Midsummer Night's Dream is a skit. Read the damn thing: it's important."
Good To Know
Some fascinating factoids from our interview with Gaiman:
"One of the most enjoyable bits of writing Sandman was getting authors whose work I love to write the introductions for the collected graphic novels -- people like Steve Erickson, Gene Wolfe, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Mikal Gilmore, and Samuel R. Delany."
"I have a big old Addams Family house, with -- in the summertime -- a vegetable garden, and I love growing exotic pumpkins. As a boy in England I used to dream about Ray Bradbury Hallowe'ens, and am thrilled that I get them these days. Unless I'm on the road signing people's books, of course."
"According to my daughters, my most irritating habit is asking for cups of tea."
"I love radio -- and love the availability of things like the Jack Benny radio shows in MP3 format. I'm addicted to BBC radio 7, and keep buying boxed CD sets of old UK radio programs, things like Round the Horne and Hancock's Half Hour. Every now and again I'll write a radio play."