Picture Book Snob
World Gorilla Day: The Pet by Catherine Emmett and David Tazzyman
I've been meaning to review The Pet by Catherine Emmett and David Tazzyman for months now. We're huge fans of the author's first book, King of the Swamp (illustrated by Ben Mantle), and were thrilled to chat to Catherine earlier this year. The Pet is another fantastic rhyming story but it takes quite a different tone and has lots of slightly wicked elements that children find irresistible. When I discovered Friday was World Gorilla Day, it seemed the perfect time to share this wonderful story.
I don't want to give too much away or ruin any of the fun. Suffice to say that the main character, a little boy named Digby, is a ridiculously spoiled and selfish individual. Digby acquires and discards pets at an alarming rate, until he eventually meets his match, a gorilla named Gus.
With The Pet, Catherine has matched her incredibly impressive debut with another masterful story. Her comic timing is impeccable, as is her rhythm. I don't think people realise how difficult it is to write in rhyme, or how it's practically impossible to pull it off this well. The phrases 'Digby's face turned violent red' and 'Daddy's hair turned slightly grey' reappear throughout the text. Daddy throws money at every obstacle, offering to pay double and triple or unlimited cash as necessary. This amplifies the humour and adds to the appeal for little readers (who love repetition).
I've mentioned before that we are mad about McDarkly of King of the Swamp, and The Pet delivers another magnificent character — Gus the gorilla. Even though Gus doesn't say a word, he's incredibly charming. We are shown how intelligent, kind and funny he is by the genius pairing of author and artist whose combined efforts vividly bring Gus to life.
David Tazzyman's illustrations are amazing and absolutely hilarious. They're remarkably detailed and dynamic and it's possible to follow the story through the images alone. Perfectly imperfect and almost childlike in their execution, I love the loose, energetic pencil lines and the messy, uneven shapes. It's brilliant how each character has mismatched eyes, making their expressions even more amusing!
Catherine's text and David's illustrations create a spectacularly entertaining experience — my kids and I laugh so much at both. The Pet is clever as well as comical and contains an important message about taking care of animals. With echoes of David McKee, Hilaire Belloc and Roald Dahl, The Pet reminds me of favourites from my childhood and is destined to become a classic. I'm hoping this is the first in a series and that there are more cautionary tales from Catherine and David on the way — and prehaps a sequel or origins story for Gus too!
About the author:
Catherine Emmett grew up in Newcastle and spent all of her childhood reading books. Then she spent fourteen years in London making spreadsheets and not reading any books at all. After advising a group of young girls to find a career that they loved, Catherine decided to take her own advice. She packed up her husband and her three young boys, moved to rural Essex and started to write picture books. Catherine now spends her days surrounded by words, animals and noisy boys.
About the illustrator: David Tazzyman is an internationally acclaimed award-winning illustrator. He worked as a commercial illustrator before falling into children's publishing in 2006, illustrating Andy Stanton's Mr Gum series which went on to win numerous awards, including the first Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2008. Now David mainly illustrates children's picture and fiction books and lives in Leicestershire with his partner and three children.
The Pet was published by Macmillan in May 2021 - see this book on the publisher's website
Read our review of King of the Swamp by Catherine Emmett and Ben Mantle