Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bad Girl! Constance and Tiny by Pierre Le Gall

A little girl and her enormous pet who get in and out of trouble together in jolly adventures? No, it's not Emily Elizabeth and Clifford this time: it's the alternate universe version-- French, but of course--starring Constance, the impish, rebellious anti-heroine, and her giant cat Tiny, he of the evil Cheshire cat grin and long pointy ears.

All hard angles from her severely cut black hair to her pointy red frock, Constance is no bundle of sugar and spice. Her smile is right out of Cruella DeVille, and her eyes, like those of her huge, looming cat Tiny, glare defiantly at any one who gets in her way. Author De Gall's voice-over narration from Constance and artist Eric Heliot's black and white and red illustrations work with delicious irony as they tell two distinctly different stories.

My name is Constance.

I am locked up in an evil mansion.

It's my parents' house.

They are terrible people--unfair and mean!

Constance's home, as pictured by artist Heloit, is a charming French cottage with an inviting swimming pool; her father is an easy-going guy with a comfortable smile and hands perpetually in the pockets of his baggy pants; and her mother is a tall, elegant Frenchwoman shown in the illustration presenting the petulant Constance with a large beribboned gift. Likewise, her school is described as a place "where they torture me," while the pictured Constance bangs a gong while the chorus sings merrily.

No matter. Constance cannot be consoled by any of her good fortune. In her mind her good efforts are never enough to please her parents.

And even when I try my best, they are never happy. (Teacher shows test with a big red zero to parents.)

There's nothing for it for Constance and her destructive pet Tiny except to leave their evil mansion; so, taking along a full valise and some money from her mother's purse ("just lying around in a corner," as Constance puts it,) the two steal away, free at last to enjoy all the ice cream and candy they desire.

But the parents "hire a couple of bandits" (otherwise recognizable as a kindly policeman and policewoman) to find and bring them back home, to the joy of the worried parents and the total consternation of Constance.

"Right then I knew that the horrors were far from over!" Constance declares.

It's exhausting being good all the time!"

De Gall's hilariously ironic Constance and Tiny will tickle kids' funny bones while perhaps making them appreciate the trials and tribulations of her parents whose relieved and welcoming hugs are described as "trying to suffocate me!" Despite its unrepentant little heroine, this little book's text and illustrations work together perfectly to delight children, good and bad.

Constance and Tiny continue their misadventures in Constance and the Great Escape.



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