Slowly I am making my way through Poly Bernatene’s picture books. The Argentinian illustrator is astoundingly good, and very prolific. His latest book, Ribbit! is, like the others, a feat of illustration. Unlike the others, there is no blue, as in the colour blue. There are wonderful greens and pinks, but for anyone who has seen When Night Didn’t Come, The Tickle Tree, or The Santa Trap, they will understand, Bernatene immerses his illustrations in deep sapphires and lustrous periwinkles. Nevertheless, what Ribbit! lacks in blue, it more than makes up for in the number and quality of frogs, and a friendly, if slightly misunderstood pig.
Depending on the time of year, a pond is home to a variety of wildlife, including frogs, insects, raccoons, and birds. The sudden appearance of a small pink pig, however, would raise an eyebrow or two, as it does in the opening pages of Ribbit! by Rodrigo Folgueira and the aforementioned Poly Bernatene. Many eyebrows in fact, all of them frog. When the chief frog addresses the visitor, the pig answers RIBBIT!, thus confusing the issue further. Worse, the frogs are a little offended; they believe the pig is making fun of them. Soon, the other creatures who frequent the pond are weighing in on the subject. As tempers flare and accusations fly, the newest member of the colony sits alone on a rock, practicing his frog songs. The ‘wise old beetle’ is called upon to assess the situation and end the fighting, but when they return to the pond, beetle in tow, the pig has disappeared.
“Maybe,” said the wise old beetle, “he just wanted to make new friends.”
Not to worry. The pig hasn’t gone far, and not only has he found a more receptive audience for his social overtures, this inter-species welcome may just extend to a colony of contrite pond dwellers.
The thing about Bernatene is that it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, the art will be superb. Strange medieval worlds, cranky kids, frogs, the Argentinian artist does not discriminate. Each will receive his particular, and sometimes peculiar, touch. In Ribbit!, Bernatene opts for humour over saturated colour. It’s a difference of degree…the first thing you notice is the loopy, bugged-eyed faces of the frogs; multiple (and more exasperated) versions of Michigan J. Frog from the Warner Brothers cartoon, One Froggy Evening. The second is the pig, with her oversized head and earnest vocalizations. And then, you notice the art. It’s beautiful, of course, and in its own way as rich as Bernatene’s previous books. What is different is the unusual amount of ‘white’ space incorporated into the pictures, and the wonderful, cloth-like texture of the paper permeating the imagery, which may be an actual paper surface, or a computer manipulated canvas of some sort. Even in the absence of Bernatene’s signature sapphires, the brighter colour palette is jewel-like against the minimalist background.
Inclusion is a complicated and timely subject. Friendship is not always a given, especially in situations where someone (or some pig) does not seem to ‘fit in’, or where gestures are misinterpreted and mocked. Folgueira and Bernatene do a lovely job presenting the issue without overselling it, weaving great humour and a sweet resolution into a beautifully realized picture book. With Ribbit! and the recently published (and reviewed) Frog Song, pond life, in all its bubbly, gorgeous and chatter-filled splendour, has never seemed so inviting.
Ribbit! is the second collaboration between Rodrigo Folgueira and Poly Bernatene (in English, there may be others in Spanish.) The first was Bob the Dog, a delightful, and very funny book currently in my possession but not yet reviewed. Mr Bernatene was born in 1972, in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he graduated from the Buenos Aires Art School. He has worked in advertising, animation, and comic books, eventually establishing a highly prolific and rather daunting career in children’s book illustration, with more than 60 books in publication.
Like Bernatene, Rodrigo Folgueira was born in Buenos Aires in 1972. He is an illustrator and writer specializing in children’s literature. He studied art at the National School of Fine Arts, where he graduated with the titles of Professor of Painting and Sculpture.
Other Bernatene appreciations:
The Dead Family Diaz by P.J. Bracegirdle, illustrations by Poly Bernatene
The Santa Trap by Jonathan Emmett, illustrations by Poly Bernatene
When Night Didn’t Come by Poly Bernatene