November 30, 2017


Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel. Adapted by Mariah Marsden. Illustrated by Brenna Thummler. Andrews McMeel. $10.99.

If You Give a Man a Cookie: A Parody. By Laura Numeroff. Illustrated by Brian Ajhar. Andrews McMeel. $16.99.

     Wonderful works can become even more wonderful, or at least wonderful in a different way, in the hands of skilled reinterpreters and artists. Anne of Green Gables was already a charming period piece when written by L.M. (Lucy Maud) Montgomery in 1908, and it has spawned innumerable sequels, followups, short stories, films, radio shows, stage plays and an extraordinary amount of merchandising. Despite a setting that now seems quaint as well as lost in time – Prince Edward Island, Canada, more than a century ago – and a basic plot foundation that nowadays needs considerable explaining (a mixup in which the wrong child gets sent from an orphanage to a brother and sister to help at their farm), the book retains its popularity because of its warmth, solid humanity, and the skillful building of relationships among its characters. And then of course there is the personality of Anne, who is 11 years old at the start of the story and in her late teens by its conclusion. Anne is talkative, imaginative (indeed, over-imaginative), and tremendously adaptable – this last element of her behavior eventually winning over just about everybody with whom she comes into contact. And now Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel brings Anne firmly into the 21st century in a finely managed adaptation by Mariah Marsden with some excellently conceived illustrations by Brenna Thummler. Although the book is of necessity abridged to fit the graphic-novel form, its main elements are all there, from Anne’s accidental arrival at Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert’s farm, to her gradual acceptance in the close-knit community, to the errors she makes that cause her sensitive nature to be deeply troubled (such as accidentally getting her “bosom friend” Diana drunk by mistakenly giving her the wrong liquid), to her success in school – and the family tragedy that leads her to give up a scholarship and resolve to stay at Green Gables. It is a straightforward book, essentially simple in plot and characters, but there is pervasive humanity to the story that comes through very well indeed in the graphic-novel version, in which Marsden keeps the dialogue that clearly shows the characters’ personalities (such as Anne’s “I learn something from every mistake”) while Thummler provides sly looks, clever asides, and just the right choice of angle and coloration to bring out the setting of Green Gables and the town of Avonlea. Indeed, the many wordless panels are often more communicative than the ones containing dialogue, carrying the story forward adeptly in an adaptation in which virtually no third-person narrative is needed. Graphic novels are so often thought of as sprawling, fast-paced and inventively designed – with many panels in unusual shapes to reflect developments in the stories – that it is refreshing to find one that proceeds much as does Montgomery’s original novel, in a deliberate, methodical, slow-by-today’s-standards way that pulls readers in quite effectively. It will be a wonderful introduction of Anne to new readers as well as a most welcome chance for those who already know (or once knew) her to find her anew in all her personable quirkiness.

     It is easy to see how a somewhat snide and snarky modern author could parody the essential simplicity and down-home niceness of Anne of Green Gables, and it is equally easy to see how someone similarly sarcastic could have her way with the If You Give… series in which a mouse gets a cookie, a pig gets a pancake, a moose gets a muffin, and on and on – with each initial gift-giving leading to a naturally following consequence as matters wend their way through delightfully silly and always warm-hearted sequential stories that eventually circle right back where they started. Yes, Laura Numeroff’s If You Give… books are ripe for parody, and now they have indeed attracted some parodistic attention. Fortunately, it comes from – Laura Numeroff. Her If You Give a Man a Cookie is a delightful sendup, suitable for all ages, of her child-focused If You Give… animal books. The story sequence here is aimed mainly at adults, but the absolutely wonderful illustrations by Brian Ajhar manage to channel the amusing childishness of the Felicia Bond pictures in the series for kids while at the same time giving a slight grown-up twist to everything. The mustachioed man who gets the initial cookie soon asks for milk to go with it (“God forbid he should get it himself”) and soon after wants to see if there is milk in his mustache – so he glances in a mirror and then starts worry about his hairline receding. Then he decides to do things to make himself feel young and vibrant, such as trying to do 10 pushups but only managing three before he becomes “so tired, he’ll lie down on the couch on top of the laundry you just folded.” You can see where this matter of mild domestic strife is going, and that is exactly where Numeroff and Ajhar take it, including an eventual going-to-sleep scene in which the man cannot fall asleep and therefore asks his long-suffering wife for some milk – and, inevitably…well, no. He does not get to ask her to get him a cookie to go with it – she makes him go downstairs and get what he wants for himself. That is a twist on the endings of the kids’ If You Give… books, and one that fits perfectly into If You Give a Man a Cookie. And speaking of long-suffering characters, Ajhar inserts a huge-headed dog with its own very distinct personality into Numeroff’s book, and when the dog ends up on the man’s pillow while the man slinks off downstairs, the book comes to a perfectly parodistic conclusion. If You Give a Man a Cookie is fun even if you do not know the If You Give… series for children, but it is immensely more enjoyable if you do. Apparently if you give an author a sweetness-and-light topic, she will probably ask for a touch of spice to go with it – at least if the author is Laura Numeroff.

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