Originally published in France in the late 60's and early 70's, the long-lost collaborations between Eugène Ionesco (a central playwright of the Theater of the Absurd) and Etienne Delessert (considered one of the fathers of modern children's picture books) are back in print, together for the first time, and featuring over 100 restored and freshly created illustrations by the original artist.
Every morning starts out the same with little Josette waking her Mama and Papa (who more often than not tend to be recovering from a late night on the town and really just want to keep sleeping). And each story pivots around a nonsensical tale Papa tells to Josette in an effort to either prolong his time in bed, or have a moment of peace in the bathroom while he shaves. In one, Papa and Josette take an imaginary toy airplane ride out of their apartment building, over the rooftops of Paris and pay a visit to the moon. And in another Papa convinces Josette that a telephone is called a cheese, a wall is called a door, the ceiling is called the floor, fingers are eyes, feet are ears, and so on.
Ionesco's narratives are full of silliness but with a domestic realism that will also ring true to both adults and kids. And Delessert's watercolor and colored pencil artwork is surreal, dreamy, and absolutely gorgeous to linger over. The dust jacket that unfolds into a poster is an especially nice treat.
Some of the best children's books have an element of absurdity to them, whether in the story telling or the strange pictures that accompany them. This collection has a fantastic amount of both.
• Find it: Stories 1,2,3,4 by Eugène Ionesco, illustrated by Etienne Delessert (McSweeney's McMullens, 2012)
(Image: Ben Partridge)
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