Fish for Breakfast

Book by Gael Cresp, illustrated by Anna Pignataro: if a children’s story is a dance between prediction and surprise, Gael Cresp knows all the steps – and pulls more out of her hat. Or rather, her boot. Little Rebecca pulls on her gumboots along with overalls and a furry hat, flipping its long tail down her back; but it’s her grandma’s glasses that prove crucial. There’s an unforgettable moment when the tale takes off, whisking the reader into a whirl of whimsy. It is the contrast of practicality and imagination that gives the action impact. Sturdy details underline the opening pages, where author and illustrator establish location and authentic routines – such as what clothing or resources one might need to set out on a fishing expedition – cooking up a thick broth of authenticity. This effectively disarms the reader. For what pops out of the mix is anything but conventional. Fabulous, astonishing events follow. Narratively, movement from one incident to the next is highly satisfying. Nothing is out of place; all links lead us from one moment to the next at just the right pace, with steady layering of motifs, tension-release, repetition and bookends (“Up, up she went” / “Down, down she went”), mingling recognizable picture-book phrases with Gael’s own idiosyncratic style. There is a balance of dialogue with description, variation of sentence duration and a Goldilocks mix of verbs & adjectives: not too many, not too few. The relationship between the main protagonists could arise from each needing something from the other. It is also born of trust and courage. As such, it echoes that of many other beloved children’s stories, wherein a human bonds with another creature based on an exchange of attributes or gifts, or overcoming obstacles. The reader enjoys an insider’s privileged view, while suspecting that other adults within the story might listen with more skepticism or a knowing wink, albeit with affection.. so that the tale feels like a shared secret between reader, author and adventurers. At the same time, perhaps as the inevitable result of a child’s courageous independence, the adventure operates as a rite of passage. Nursery rhyme, fable and folklore blend to form an holistic world with accompaniment of pictures that hold a paradox of fluid movement and colourful, convincing definition. Every page is a clarion call for this adorable book to be republished for a new generation.