The Gobblings by Matthue Roth and Illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason

[I received a review copy of this book from the publisher No other compensation was received.]

The Gobblings is a very powerful book. The first message is that there is value in stopping and noticing what is going on around you.  The second is that you may be the only one who can avert certain disaster.  Then it shows, in no uncertain terms, that when this happens and you know what to do — do it!  Don’t stop and ask for permission.  Don’t waver or whine or run away trembling.  Do it!  Be brave!  Finally, it reminds you that in order to do the right thing, there may be a sacrifice.  It tells you all of this indirectly, by way of a little boy named Herbie on a space station, but the message is loud and clear — and beautifully illustrated.

Herbie is on a new space station with his parents.  Just like on Earth, moving is hard and parents are busy.  Herbie is expected to entertain himself.  He does so by playing with marbles, running through the space station’s tunnels, and finally settling on making his own robot friends.

The whole time that this is happening, gobblings are watching the people and insidiously eating the space station.

When the gobblings start trying to break into Herbie’s parents’ workshop, he grabs his robot friends and springs into action!  Herbie has to make a tough choice:  Is he going to be a friend or a hero?  In this story, he can’t be both.

The Gobblings is definitely eerie.  Sitting down and imagining being on a space station while it is being eaten is unequivocally disturbing.  But that didn’t seem to phase my son.  There’s a certain assured safety in picture books that he’s able to take comfort in, the story will end well — which it does.  However, he wasn’t prepared for the sacrifice that the boy makes. As an adult, I didn’t think the sacrifice was that big of a deal, but my son was indignant!  He was actually angry about it.  It was eye opening.

Happily, while the parents are too busy in this story, when it becomes important the parents DO listen to the child and trust the child’s judgement.  It’s a reassuring detail for both parents and adults that parents can and do listen and that children are capable.

The illustrations are brilliant!  There’s this crazy-amazing juxtaposition of very quaint items, like marbles and red wagons, with space station command centers making it hard to tell if this takes place a long time ago or a long time from now.  The colors are what really set the tone for this story.  With all the current talk about space exploration and Mars and other potentially-habitable planets — we forget that space is cold and dark — and things are very far away.  The dominating blues used throughout the book aptly reminds us that space is a lot of nothingness.

Interestingly, the little boy, his wagon, and the marbles, are all in red and white underlining that Herbie is different.  There are highlights of red elsewhere, but these reds just emphasize Herbie all the more.  Also, the illustrations beckon you to take a closer look.  Take a look at the cover, at first it looks like a lizard licking a lollipop — but then you notice that it isn’t a lizard because it has octopus-like tentacles — and then you realize that it isn’t a lollipop — that’s a joystick of sorts.  The whole book is like this.  At first the scene will look like one thing and as you look at it more you’ll notice a tentacle, a clip-pad with paper (in space?), a wilting plant, a salt shaker, and a fork in unexpected places.  These subtle details keep pulling you into the story and subtly change your perception of it.

Really, it’s an amazing book.  There are so many layers to this book both in the story and visually, that it is a book to read again and again.  My son requests to read this book all the time.  I’ve been amazed watching how this book has influenced his pretend play and all of the questions it has prompted.  We’ve have a lot of conversations about whether or not the gobblings are good or bad and what he would do if he were in this situation.  Initially, I wondered if this book might be a little too spooky for him, but not at all — he really loves it.

Brave 4 – 112+.  One Peace Books.  December 2014. 32 pages. ISBN: 978-1935548607. Fiction.

Where to Get it:

You Should Read The Gobblings because:

  • First and foremost, it is a fantastic and fun hero-adventure story with an awesome child for a hero!
  • The illustrations are top notch!  The use of color to create tone and set the mood is truly excellent!
  • It is based (loosely) from a Jewish folktale which you can read more about at  Hevria.com (It’s a great article and definitely worth the read!) — BUT there’s nothing in the book to define it as a Jewish picture book.  Anyone can read it and enjoy it.  Really, what this book does is make me want to read more Jewish folktales — what else is there?  (Any suggestions?)
  • The Gobblings raises a lot of important and difficult questions.  This is a great framework to talk with others about everything from loneliness to parents being too busy to listening to children to assumptions people make to how we’re all too busy to stop and notice important things (like your space station being eaten while you’re on it).
  • It’s an important book.  It’s great to read an eerie picture book that simultaneously promotes important things in life.  Also, there aren’t really any good guys or bad guys.  The gobblings are pests, they’re not evil or out to deliberately get people — they’re just hungry.  The story is a great example that life, people, and even monsters aren’t really all good or all bad.

Author and Illustrator Websites:

More Reviews of this Book:

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

FTC Disclosures:  Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit.  It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

13 comments

  1. This sounds so fabulous, I’m hoping my library will get it soon. And what an interesting reaction your son had! Way to engage! I love books where you have to look closer to see what’s hidden in plain sight.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. See, I know that I wouldn’t have been attracted to this book ’cause of the cover. It’s very colorful and might make me curious, but it’s creepy-looking, too, right? Only due to your high praise will I check it out if I see it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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