No Sneeze, PLEASE! Chu's Day by Neil Gaiman
WHEN CHU SNEEZED,
BAD THINGS HAPPENED.
So, with this suspenseful bit of foreshadowing, begins Neil Gaiman's and Adam Rex's just-out picture book, Chu's Day (HarperCollins, 2013).
Chu is an mild-mannered, adorable panda toddler, his striped tee riding up over his little round belly, pilot's helmet and goggles on his head, who sets off on his day's adventures. First on the list is a trip to the local library, a busy place crowded with a crew of library patrons--mice who use long ladders to access the empty drawers of an old-time wooden card catalog to search the collection with their miniscule laptops, a platypus scaling a rolling ladder at the shelves, politely held steady by a gorilla. But there is a danger lurking in that innocuous setting:
THERE WAS OLD BOOK DUST IN THE AIR.
"ARE YOU GOING TO SNEEZE?" SAID MOTHER.
After a crescendo of prefatory AAAHs!, Chu says not.
Then, it's off to the diner with Dad, where a collection of assorted animal characters as varied as the Chalmun's Cantina bar scene in Star Wars, are slurping, sipping, and snacking. Unfortunately there is also a scent of pepper in the air there.
"AAH...AAAH...AAAAH....!" GOES CHU.
"ARE YOU GOING TO SNEEZE?" ASKS HIS FATHER.
Nope. False alarm.
Then the day ends with a family outing at the circus, a lavish "tree-ring" affair in a gaily-colored tent. Everyone is intent upon trying to watch all the daring acts at once.
"GUESS WHAT?" SAID CHU.
BUT NOBODY LISTENED.
With all the tension of an impending sneeze, this one ends in the catastrophic aaaAAchoooOOOOOOOO! we've been anticipating all along, as little Chu blows it all away--library, diner, circus, in a gratifying release of explosive giggles from young readers. The pairing of Newbery author Gaiman, master of the neo-gothic fantastical novel, (see his The Graveyard Book) and Coraline) and illustrator Adam Rex, equally known for his somewhat surreal but totally comic style, (see his Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich) is a perfect pairing here, sophisticated, sly, and altogether satisfying. Gaiman's narration is wryly deadpan, letting Rex's masterfully rich oil-painting illustrations extend the storytelling to its logical conclusion. Awww, Chu!! (Editor's Note: Pass the tissues around the story circle before you read this one aloud!)
Watch the book's trailer narrated by the author and see a somewhat sinister-looking Neil Gaiman with the real baby panda who inspired this sweet story on his lap, here.