In a forest, two chameleons (Willy and Wally) flick out their tongues and catch a bug. Unfortunately, it is the same bug, a pink blob that resembles a winged wad of bubble gum with eyes. The problem then is, who gets the bug? That dilemma, so familiar to families and kindergarten teachers, takes most of the book to resolve, and affects the daily lives of myriad animals (a frog, a lemur, something called a “beaky bird”) living nearby. It is only when the lives of the chameleons themselves are threatened that they get their priorities straight.
Author and illustrator Janet Perlman also writes, directs, and animates short films. The popular NFB short (and later Kids Can Press book) Cinderella Penguin was her creation, as were two other “penguinized” remakes of fairy tales. This book, too, is based on one of her films, a wordless animated short entitled Dinner for Two.
Perlman pays tribute to the book’s cinematic origins by placing vertical filmstrip-style images alongside the main illustration on each spread. It’s an effective technique (even if you don’t know the film exists), and provides a richer, more interesting visual experience for the reader.
The story is good, light fun, but it must be said that the original film allows for much more nuance and humour, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the fact that it has no narration. One other small quibble: given its inevitable fate, the bug in the book is perhaps a little too endearing. It may look like bubble gum, but some kids might find themselves empathizing more with the nameless bug than with Willy or Wally or any of the other forest denizens.
Still, it’s certainly more entertaining than simply being told, yet again, that we all have to share.