recess radio program

06/19/06
Ricky Gervais's Flanimals
    by Dave Reidy

British comedian Ricky Gervais has created, written, and starred in two wildly successful television series, The Office and Extras. "The Ricky Gervais Show," available for download at the website of the UK's Guardian newspaper, is the most downloaded podcast in the history of the form. Gervais won two Golden Globes for The Office, and wrote and starred in an episode of his favorite television show, The Simpsons. And what do entertainers who have reached the highest echelons often do for their next trick? They write a children's book.

In this sense, Gervais is no exception. But Gervais' two children's books, Flanimals and the sequel More Flanimals, are exceptional in the quality of their writing and the scope of their creativity, and one gets the sense that Gervais would have written the books even if his screen career had never taken off. Flanimals sold over 750,000 copies in the UK alone, but More Flanimals, published in March 2006 in the States, is no mere attempt to cash in on the success of its predecessor. Gervais creates a stand-alone world populated by the creatures of his imagination-Pong Flibbers and Dweezle Muzzbugs and Gernloids and Gundullumps-all illustrated colorfully and cleverly by Rob Steen.

Using a language that calls to mind the secret language of children, filled with invented onomatopoetic words that somehow get to the heart of that which they are meant to describe, Gervais takes readers young and old through a tour of the Flanimal Kingdom, Flanimal Evolution, Flanatomy, Flanimal Behavior, and even offers a Spotter's Guide to Flanimals. The Flanimal Kingdom is, as it says on the back cover of More Flanimals, "a squat-eat-squat world," and many Flanimals meet hilariously cruel ends. Of the diminutive orange Gronglet, Gervais writes: "This tiny humfibiloid shnerbles along in ming puddles, snorggling up micro-flugs, creatures so small, they can't be seen. It needs something bigger than this to live, so it starves to death within the first day of its life." Illustrator Steen gives Flanimals of every shape and size, enormously expressive eyes that invite the reader's empathy. One feels for the tiny Gronglet even as one laughs at the absurdity of its piteously brief existence. Gervais' sense of humor, at once childlike and dark, is everywhere in More Flanimals, which makes it a good choice for adults who like The Office and children who might get a laugh from words like "cloppered," "puggled," and "skruntling."

Copyright 2006 Dave Reidy

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Wednesday, 24-May-2006 14:32:45 EDT


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."