TITLE: Moon Man
AUTHOR + ILLUSTRATOR: Tomi Ungerer
PUBLISHED BY: Phaidon, 2009
The highly stylized picture books of the late sixties and early seventies have seen quite a renaissance. For the past few years publishing houses better known for design and architecture titles have republished children’s books that fit their mid-century design aesthetic. Phaidon has developed a very fine children’s imprint, which has republished most notably A Balloon for a Blunderbuss by Alastair Reid and Bob Gill, and the Nicholas books by Jean Jacques Sempé and Rene Goscinny.
This year they have turned their attention to Tomi Ungrer. Ungrer, a Hans Christen Andersen Award winner (1998) is most known in the US for his famous Dr. Strangelovemovie poster. He was also a prolific picture book author. His 1966 picture book Moon Man is a silly and imaginative story about the Moon Man’s one visit to earth.
Our Moon Man is terribly curious about all the fun we have here on earth, so he grabs the tail of a comet, and comes down for a visit. He plays in a forest, attends a costume party, and befriends a scientist, Doktor Bunsen van der Dunkel (a name sure to cause giggles in your audience, should you pronounce it with the right flourish).
My favorite visual trick in the book has to do with the phases of the moon. The Moon Man, when he first lands on Earth, is arrested and put in jail, so the government can figure out what he is and what to do with him. He’s miserable, but as the moon wanes, so does he, till he is small enough to slip through the bars of the jail cell window.
The story is silly, the artwork very stylized and of its time. Yet there is something enduring in this story, and I’m glad Phaidon has chosen to bring it back in print. (They have also republished Urgrer’s most famous book The Three Robberswhich is a little too queer for my taste. But some people love it. To each his own.)
This is the fourth of the 5 titles I listed at the end of my First Things piece for which I was unable to write full reviews. While you might find Moon Man in a local bookstore, you are more likely to find it in a museum gift shop, or contemporary art gift store. Phaidon just sort of rolls that way. You can also get this title at the Little Lamb Bookshop under the heading Best of 2009.