Lizs Book Snuggery

“Emile” by Tomi Ungerer; Learning How to Adapt…Even if You’re an Octopus Named Emile!

With the passing of Tomi Ungerer; one of my very favorite picture book author/illustrators, I’ve decided to feature some of his picture books at The Snuggery.

Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award for his lifetime contributions to children’s literature and named as Ambassador for Childhood and Education by the Council of Europe in 2003, his life and legacy lives on for generations of young readers that discover his quirky wit that captures kid’s imaginations.

The end flap of “Emile” states:

His books are renowned classics in Europe, but many have not been in print in English for over 40 years. This book is being reissued by Phaidon to inspire a new generation of readers, writers and dreamers.

I can clearly recall a story time of mine featuring Tomi’s book,”Zeralda’s Ogre.” The young listeners were enrapt at this tale of an ogre with the culinary tastes of a gourmand and tamed by a young woman who happens to capture both his heart and palate.

At the end of the year, after many story times, “Zerala’s Ogre” was the book they voted their favorite.

Ogres and people are not always what they seem at first glance.

Witness “Shrek,” another ogre of a kindly nature, authored by an additional favorite writer of mine, named William Steig, who commenced picture book writing in his sixties! 

There is always a Chapter Two in life!

Back to Emile, the octopus, and adapting to new circumstances…and enjoying it.

That has certainly been an all consuming factor both for children and parents with the onset of Covid in the last two years.

“Emile” was first published in 1980!

Your young reader will be introduced to Captain Samovar (great name), who is attacked by sharks in the middle of a deep sea dive. And it’s Emile to the rescue. Tomi’s use of vocabulary was always stellar; in fact it was his picture book, “The Beast of Monsieur Racine,” that induced me to look up the word “cuirass” ( it’s a piece of armor with breastplate and rear that is connected).

In “Emile,” here is no man-threatening underwater octopod, but a friendly and helpful one. And that is the unexpected delight of Tomi Ungerer’s picture books; they can take the naturally perceived threatening in life, and make it believably kind and approachable…with a bit of understanding and acceptance.

Great lessons to be learned here, folks.

Emile is invited topside and adapts to life on land via Captain Samovar’s instructive help:

He let Emile sleep in a bathtub full of salt water.

The octopus turned out to be a gifted musician and was the joy of every party.

But Emile missed the ocean.

So he got a job as a lifeguard.

He taught children to swim and watched for trouble.

When people swam out too far, he saved them.

Sometimes he saved four at a time.

His success at the beach involves making himself into varied shapes: chair, sleigh, car, unicorn bull, bird and elephant. This is an octopus with both charm and varied skill sets!

And smugglers, in a suspicious looking boat, are no match for Emile. The police give chase, but even Emile comes to the rescue of the gendarmes.

Wrapping seaweed around a speeding escape boat is an excellent idea to halt the smugglers’ departure.

The next police boat is named EMILE in his honor.

But the “quiet life in the sea” calls to Emile and he answers, after he is feted grandly for his heroism.

Is Captain Samovar separated from his new friend?

Tomi Ungerer would never conjure an ending of such simplicity; the final page is Captain Samovar in full diving gear, having a heavy game of chess on the ocean floor with Emile!

Please let your young reader discover this amazing picture author of rare insight into the heart of humanity, while never forgetting, as he wrote, the child that lives in each of us. And that cannot be assumed at first glance; as there is so much more depth to be plumbed, and Tomi, I think. intuited that for young readers.

Celebrate his legacy with Emile, Crictor, Rufus, Fog Island, The Beast of Monsieur Racine, Zeralda’s Ogre, and any others that you come upon.

His life lives on in these gems! Please don’t allow your young reader to miss the journey.

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