Imagine if after creating all that havoc in Manhattan, Godzilla had a child, changed its ways, and helped rebuild the city it destroyed – determined to be an upstanding citizen. That is basically the premise of Kevin Sylvester’s latest picture book, which is bound to be a multi-generational crowd-pleaser.
Sylvester’s story is simple and sweet: Gargantua Sr., a fire-breathing spiky green monster, is a reformed wild one who now spends her time fixing demolished urban centres, helping the city knock down old buildings, as well as saving the world from rampaging space robots and giant asteroids. Her non-gendered offspring, Gargantua Jr., is in awe of mom’s destructive past (after finding newspaper clippings) and the impressive feats of strength and power she now uses for good. And it knows that it too could do some damage if given a little leeway. But Gargantua Sr. is making Jr. start small – arm wrestling Mom’s tamed space robot friend and learning to blast rocks instead of asteroids. When Jr. sneaks off during the night to try breathing fire on a building or two, it takes a village to avert disaster.
Matching Sylvester’s note-perfect storytelling are his bold and fun illustrations. These are the kind of drawings of creatures and chaos that will appeal to future comic-book lovers, while also providing the kind of personality, warmth, and humour that resonates with readers of all ages and ilk. In a book about giant monsters, Sylvester knows how to make the most of scale. Gargantua Sr. and her giant robot friend have their heads in the clouds towering above buildings and volcanoes, which we see only the tops of, sitting at the bottom of the page. Meanwhile, Jr. stands as tall as the fourth floor of a skyscraper – and in an aerial view we see that this oversized preschooler is still small enough to sit on top of a high-rise office building without crushing it.
Adding to the overall success of the book is the way Sylvester handles the story’s parallel lessons. For kids, the messages of listening to your parents and not fire-breathing without supervision are spelled out clearly in a series of straightforward and tense images. But there are subtle take-aways for observant grown-up readers about helicopter parenting and what can happen if kids aren’t given an outlet for their inner monsters.