What is it about picturebooks? Sometimes the repetition drives you batty and as the adult reader you skip entire pages because you can’t face the thought of reading the same repetitive phrase another single time, even though you’ve heard that repetition is exactly what makes kids’ books so good for kids. Yet other picturebooks have the same amount of repetition, and yet you enjoy reading those ones. Each time you get to that repetitive bit you are motivated anew to put on your funny voice and you enjoy the theatre of it.
The Gingerbread Man is one of the latter examples. I enjoy reading good versions of that story and my daughter is spellbound by it. We have the Little Golden Book and the Ladybird versions.
Which version do you remember? My favourite illustrations of The Gingerbread Man are the lavish kind, in which grandmother’s kitchen feels safe and homely and you can almost smell the gingerbread baking. This isn’t a story that lends itself well to block colour. The gingerbread has to look delicious.
The very attractive ‘Run, run as fast as you can’ catch-phrase has been repurposed in a variety of new works. Stephen King even wrote a short horror story about a woman who loved long-distance running. I won’t spoil it for you, but it doesn’t end well.
Then there’s the Australian retelling of The Gingerbread Man. It’s called The Lamington Man, naturally. Lamingtons are a traditional cake — a square of sponge covered in icing (pink or chocolate) then covered in dessicated coconut. I’m not a fan. At least I wasn’t, until I tried homemade lamingtons, which are quite different from the dry sponge you get from the supermarket, although supermarkets have started selling mini lamingtons, which are much improved, not because their sponge is any less dry, but because mini lamingtons have a lower ratio of icing to sponge. (Here I am reminiscing, because after giving up sugar entirely, I have absolutely no intention of eating another darned lamington no matter how many country fairs I attend.)
THE LAMINGTON MAN BY KEL RICHARDS ILLUSTRATED BY GLEN SINGLETON (2009)
This is what a lamington looks like.
I really like this Australian retelling of The Gingerbread Man — first of all, the old woman screams when the lamington comes to life. The artist has to be careful to get this right, because even in fairytale world, I’m sure anyone would be surprised if their baked goods up and left. This woman has a great surprised look. We can see straight down her throat.
I also like the phrase, ‘And sprinkled him with coconut, to finish him off of course.’ ‘To finish someone off’ has another meaning and indeed that’s what will happen.
This Lamington Man is a cheeky little bastard, insulting everyone he encounters. That’s why it’s so satisfying to see him eaten by a croc. He calls the dog lazy, insults the postman’s hat and makes a ‘mocking salute’ which I can only imagine is the middle finger, except the lamington man hasn’t actually got fingers, which is why it’s funny.
There’s also a pretty good joke at the end, but I won’t spoil it.