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Grumpy Bird

by Jeremy Tankard

He was too grumpy to eat. He was too grumpy to play. In fact, he was too grumpy to fly. ‘Looks like I’m walking today,’ said Bird.” And yet, Grumpy Bird, written and illustrated by graphic artist Jeremy Tankard, is an uplifting read. Thanks to a balance of smart dialogue, stylish artwork, familiar emotions, and a simple message, this is a rare picture book that is equally enjoyable for toddlers, early readers, and adults.

The illustrations, a combination of ink art and digitally manipulated photographs, have the feel of Japanese cartoons. Every page is a deeply saturated delight, offering bountiful contrasts between the thick, marker-style outlines of the animals and delicate scrawls of flowers, between cartoon characters and photographic backgrounds, and between black lines and rich hues. Altogether, the effect of Tankard’s artwork is weird, endearing, and striking. Older children may recognize an affinity with animé and manga.

Younger kids, though, can focus on the colourful, simple animal characters. With persistent good humour, Bird’s friends join the grumpy pedestrian on his walk. When Beaver’s innocent “What are you doing?” gets the sarcastic response “Let me give you a hint […] You do it by placing one foot in front of the other,” the bucktoothed rodent refuses to take Bird’s bait. Cheerfully, he follows the too-grumpy-to-fly Bird on his walk, as do Raccoon, Sheep, Rabbit, and Fox, each joining one at a time until there is a whole parade of animals.

There are some gorgeous scenes, such as the spread of animal friends jumping topsy-turvy in the air against an indigo sky. With the patience of his friends and such an aesthetically stimulating environment, it’s no wonder Bird soon forgets all about being grumpy. The message that your friends still love you even when you’re in a bad mood – and that a good walk and some companionship can do wonders – shines through. Grumpy Bird is highly recommended.