Gustave is a hauntingly chilling picture book for children from kindergarten to grade two. The publisher’s website describes this book as funny but I think dark humour is a more appropriate characterization of this 2014 Groundwood publication. Originally written by Rémy Simard in French and published in Quebec, Gustave is translated into English by Shelley Tanaka and and illustrated by Pierre Pratt.
Gustave is a mouse and he’s dead… the cat ate him. Gustave’s nameless brother mourns him throughout the beautifully dark, paint slashed images of this unique picture book. The nameless mouse huddles in the corners of the dark pages, remembering the events of his brother’s death:
He was big and blue with huge eyes. He looked at Gustave, and then he looked at me. I screamed. I remember that.
Pratt’s illustrations are really a work of art that depict the world of shadows and giants that is the reality for a heartbroken mouse.
How will he tell his mother that his brother is dead? Cowering in the shadows for as long as he can, Gustave finally walks home to face his mother:
Gustave’s mother’s reaction to her son’s death is quietly chilling. Gustave’s death isn’t met with anger, grief, or any emotion you’d expect from a grieving parent. The lighthearted note that closes the picture book is even more horrific and strange than the mouse’s death – maybe just for the adult reader, I honestly don’t know how a child would react to this.
Read this book and decide for yourself.