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The Undesirables
by Paule Brière
Illustrated by Philippe Beha
AGES: 5 & up
PAGES: 32
SIZE: 8 x 10
RIGHTS: World English
PRICES: US $16.95, Cdn $17.95
HARDCOVER: 978-1-894965-88-0

- Best books for Kids & Teens 2010 Chosen Title, CCBC 

CM Magazine

The imaginative creativity demonstrated by Paule Brière and Philippe Béha in Simply Read Books' latest picture book is certainly entertaining. The Undesirables is a story of treason that begins with a king and queen issuing the order to "Lock up all the undesirables!" In this highly imaginative alphabet book, the royal majesties make a list of those that should be imprisoned, proceeding through the alphabet until the Granvilan discovers, although the dungeon is not big enough to house all of those identified for imprisonment, that he, too, is about to be jailed.

     Although veiled, at the heart of The Undesirables is a story stressing the need for tolerance and the celebration of differences. These are important messages for all children. Brière and Béha convey this message in a whimsical manner that will appeal to children. First published in 2006 as Les Indésirables, the English translation will likely also appeal to early years teachers looking to encourage students to explore language in creative and fun ways, including the use of invented language.

    The imaginative and energetic text is matched by the bright illustrations. Béha's mixed media collage images are busy, and, I confess, I did not personally find them appealing, but I find the artwork intriguing nonetheless. Béha's daring use of colour and form is suggestive of the work of Dali.

     The royal couple who appear on the cover image have different noses and different hair to the king and queen who appear inside the book. I find this difference perplexing. This seems to be an error, although it is possible that I am merely missing the artist's intent with the different cover depiction.

     Readers with an interest in work that is high in energy and in interpretive possibilities will have fun exploring The Undesirables. This book represents a unique addition to the voluminous collection of alphabet books for children. In a genre that seems sometimes to have been done to death, I appreciate the creativity and originality of The Undesirables.

 

 

Resource Links

There once was a king and queen who were unhappy with the quality of their subjects. “Lock up all the undesirables!” they ordered. The royal servant, the Granvilan is unsure about which of the subjects are in fact the undesirables. And so begins this quirky, nonsense alphabet book with a long list of those to be imprisioned. Briere continues through the alphabet with imaginative names such as Malameeps, Naselnarks, Oogleoafs and Quaquapouettes, Richyfires, Stinklestars, Tappitytwits and Uglepuffs follow. Children love this stuff and enjoy listening to adults sound them out!

The Granvilan soon realizes that in between the Fimbleforks and Higgildyspoons, his own name appears in the list of undesirables!

When it is clear that every single subject in the kingdom is to be imprisoned and that the dungeon is not big enough for everyone, the Granvilan makes his decision. He wasn’t going to make the dungeon bigger or construct a new one. He had a better solution. His solution is one that ensures the king and queen no longer need tolerate undesirable subjects and that they may live in peace in their perfect kingdom.

The theme of this book carries a valuable lesson in discrimination and intolerance, and the creative use of nonsense language is always appealing to children, especially when read aloud with animated expression. Beha’s use of mixed media collage images are interesting and out of the ordinary, but I personally did not find them attractive. Young children may enjoy searching the images for the pictures hidden within. There are some discrepancies in the appearance of the king and queen on the cover and inside of the book. It is not clear if this is intentional on Beha’s part of if it is a publishing error. While I am not certain this book with be widely appealing, there is a place for this imaginative and unique book on the shelves of the library.

Thematic Links: Discrimination; Intolerance; Prejudice; Nonsense Words.