Monday, November 21, 2011

Shell Game: Marcel the Shell with Shoes On: Things About Me by Jenny Slate

My name is Marcel. And I am partially a shell.

This is my Breadroom.

It's a bedroom but I sleep on a piece of bread, so I just call it my Breadroom.

Forget curious little monkeys and perky pig girls in red-striped pajamas, French-loving fashionistas, rambunctious retriever puppies, even jolly old St. Nick, and all the rest of the usual storybook suspects this season. The media superstar is Marcel. A univalve mollusk seems a strange protagonist for the holiday season, but in her sudden best-seller Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me (Razor Bill, 2011) Jenny Slate and her talented graphic media magician Amy Lind prove once more than imagination trumps all.

Marcel has one big eye, a mouth, and wears orangy "shoes" with which he somehow achieves locomotion of a most primitive sort. Marcel mostly likes himself and his cozy lifestyle. He lives on a bureau top, in his Breadroom (two slices of bread inside which he snuggles when it time to got to bed), his "Aquarium" (a standard-issue goldfish bowl), an amusement park (an assortment of plastic toys and other objects), with a view of the monuments (a shelf of sports trophies), and his very own devoted pet:

My one regret in that I'll never have a dog.

But sometimes I tie a hair to a piece of lint and drag it around.

His name is Alan.

He doesn't know any tricks or anything.

Tell him to roll over.... See?

Marcel makes do with found objects to amuse himself. His favorite thrill? Scaling a platform sandal, wearing a pistachio shell as a protective helmet, and sliding down from heel to toe. His favorite theme park ride? The Ladle. The worst ride? The scary Salad Spinner It's an exciting but exhausting life for Marcel, causing him to repair to his refuge, the Breadroom, for a rest.

Could you shut the book, please?

I'm trying to go to bread!

After having become a viral internet star and taking prizes at the Sundance and New York International Children's Film Festival, Marcel the Shell and his famous shoes have, er, left their footprints in the sands of, um, media stardom and ventured forth to scale (or whatever sea snails do) the last challenging height, the world of picture book print.

Marcel's deadpan voice is just as unique, and artist Lind plays with perspective, using both long and close-up "lenses" in her droll portrayals of her snail-like hero which intrigue the eye. The book begins with a nostalgic long view of a doorway, a comfy room beyond with a traditional child's chest of drawers sporting a fishbowl, the usual kid toys haphazardly topping it, a magnifying glass, and a small ... something in the center. As the illustrations "zoom in," the something is seen to be the loquacious and self-revelatory Marcel in his round, orange-accented "shoes," ready to take us on a narrative tour of his imaginative world. It's all great fun, and kids, whose imaginations are perhaps less jaded than those of adults, will "get" Marcel right away. The understated humor and matter-of-fact absurdity of the whole premise has proven to have a fresh appeal that has made Marcel a mollusk media sensation!

Kirkus Reviews puts it perkily and persuasively: "The sky's the limit for this winning, winsome, wee mollusk."

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