One does not usually think of carrots in the same breath as ‘scary’ or ‘unsettling’, unless they are cooked English-style, which is to say, boiled until they are mush. Tasty, yes, but boring. Bereft of personality, you would think, but…you’d be wrong. In Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown’s new book Creepy Carrots, we are introduced to the other side of this most unassuming of vegetables, the side that is capable of all sorts of mayhem. Tread carefully in your garden, folks. The carrots are watching.
For young Jasper Rabbit, there is nothing better than a ‘fat, crisp’ carrot from Crackenhopper’s field. He can’t get enough in fact, yanking them out of the ground morning, noon and night, unaware the carrots are keeping score. The chief instigators are a trio of wickedly expressive, snaggle-toothed carrots bent on terrorizing Jasper. They follow him home, but like any good boogie man, vegetable or otherwise, they stay just out of sight, a shadowy presence lurking in the shed, or behind the shower curtain, igniting a paranoia that is easily dismissed by his father as a ‘bad dream.’ Exquisitely worded phrases like ‘…the soft, sinister tunktunktunk of carrots creeping’ and ‘terrible, carroty breathing’ add a level of menace to the story of vegetables gone bad that is simply, well, delicious. But have they really gone bad?
The smudged, charcoal-like application of the various mediums set the stage for this dark and humourous tale, which, although not specifically Halloween in concept (there are no ghosts or goblins, just peevish carrots), is nevertheless Halloween in spirit. Reynolds and Brown make you feel for Jasper’s predicament, especially as efforts to plead his case to his parents fails. I mean, who among us has ever been able to convince a parent that our nightmares are real? In the end, left to his own devices, Jasper’s crafty, and ever so slightly excessive response to his long night of the carrot is a solution that, surprisingly, satisfies both the pursued and the pursuer.
The illustrations by the brilliant Peter Brown take an ordinary thing and make it extraordinary. Extraordinarily creepy, that is, and very, very funny. According to the New York-based artist, he ‘illustrated the beejesus’ out of Reynolds words, and there can be no doubt as one flips through these pages that a lot of thought, skill, and dedicated beejesusing went into their creation. Rendered in pencil, and then digitally composited and coloured (primarily in black, white and orange), the illustrations have a noirish, cinematic feel, juxtaposing large panels with smaller vignettes reminiscent of film cells. There may even be a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo in the wonderfully executed scene of Jasper Rabbit suspended in a spiral of angry carrots. According to a short (and hilarious) promotional film by Peter Brown, the inspiration for this book was indeed drawn from movies and television shows of this genre, especially The Twilight Zone. Think of Peter Brown as the Rod Serling of the vegetable patch.
My admiration for Peter Brown began with Flight of the Dodo, followed by The Curious Garden, two books which bare little in common stylistically, but individually, display an impressive artistic range and warped sense of humour. Brown’s other publications, including Children Make Terrible Pets and now Creepy Carrots, are equally dissimilar, but like every one of his books, incredibly striking. Peter Brown is the type of illustrator whose work is recognizable primarily by the beauty of the art, not by a locked-in style. I may not know immediately that an illustration is a ‘Peter Brown’, but it is guaranteed that I will love it on first sight, whatever it is, even a root vegetable.
Aaron Reynolds is the author of many books for kids, including Superhero School, Chicks and Salsa, and the Joey Fly, Private Eye graphic novel series. His books have been nominated for a number of awards including the 2010 Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Award. He lives in Chicago with his wife, two kids, ‘four neurotic cats, and 0 to 10 goldfish depending on the day.’ According to the biography on the Simon & Schuster website, Mr Reynolds isn’t scared of carrots, but he is terrified of black olives. Mr Reynolds, I share your pain.
Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, with illustrations by Peter Brown. Published by Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Read my review of The Curious Garden here.