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Kes Gray (1960-) - Sidelights

review book twitchy peas

A background as an award-winning advertising copywriter prepared Kes Gray to become a picture book writer. The British author learned how to keep his When small bunny Twitchy finds out he's adopted, his horse and cow parents teach him about familial love in Kes Gray's tender picture-book story. (From Our Twitchy, illustrated by Mary McQuillan.) thoughts concise and phrased in a way to make an influence, and that has translated nicely into his more recent creative endeavors. Since winning the overall prize from the Federation of Children's Book Awards in 2001 with Eat Your Peas, Gray has written a number of titles that have made a quick transit from England to America. Booklist reviewer Tim Arnold described Gray's work as "absurdly funny."

Eat Your Peas introduces Daisy, "a veritable icon of juvenile intransigence," to quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer. It is dinnertime, and Daisy doesn't want to eat her peas. Mom resorts to bribery, promising ice cream if Daisy eats the vegetables. When Daisy won't budge, Mom keeps upping the ante until Daisy's reward for eating peas includes Africa, seventeen swimming pools, the moon, the stars, and the sun. Then Daisy makes a counter offer. She'll eat peas if Mom eats brussels sprouts. Tim Arnold in Booklist particularly liked the resolution of Gray's plot because it "does not involve some sort of punishment." The Publishers Weekly critic praised the multiple award-winning title for its "escalating silliness" and "bold graphics." Daisy makes her second appearance in You Do!, another story in which she engages Mom in a battle of wills. Gray has hinted that more Daisy titles may lie in the future.

Among Gray's most popular titles on both sides of the Atlantic is The "Get Well Soon" Book: Good Wishes for Bad Times, published in England as Who's Poorly Too?: The 'Get Well Soon' Book. Picture books aimed specifically at ailing youngsters are relatively rare, and Gray approaches the subject with equal doses of humor and sympathy. A series of animals are coping with various illnesses in the book: Cynthia Centipede sprains ninety-eight ankles, Delia the Dragon burns herself when she sneezes, and Katie the Cat winds up in bandages after an over-zealous mouse chase. The book's message is that all will recover, a reassuring thought for a youngster confined to bed. In her Booklist review, Ilene Cooper noted that the title would certainly appeal to sick children, "but even kids who are as healthy as a horse will enjoy this." Jane Marino in School Library Journal likewise felt that young listeners would be "sure to giggle at the inventive plights these creatures experience." And Jennifer Mangan in Christian Parenting Today concluded that the book "promotes compassion for others."

Our Twitchy is another Gray picture book that examines a difficult issue for young children. Twitchy the rabbit can't understand why he looks so different from his parents. Clearly something is amiss. His mother is a cow, and his father is a horse. When his parents explain that he is adopted, Twitchy runs away. He returns home only after he has tried to alter his appearance to look more like them, feeling that they won't love him with long ears and a puffy tail. They quickly explain that "being in a family is about love and acceptance," according to Kristin de Lacoste in School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly critic liked the way Our Twitchy "presents authentic childhood concerns about a sometimes difficult-to-approach topic without using a heavy hand."

Cluck O'Clock takes a popular subject, telling time, and spins it into a funny tale about chickens. The lives of Freda, Frye, and the other feathered denizens of a family farm begin at "four o'cluck" in the morning and continue through the day to a dust bath at "seven o'cluck," followed by a fox scare just before midnight. "This energetic and silly story has a lilting rhyme that sets a frolicking pace," observed Martha Topol in School Library Journal. Connie Fletcher in Booklist characterized the story as "winsome . . . to be sure, as well as a great way to learn about time."

Many people are familiar with the "Baby on Board" signs that hang in some cars. Gray used the concept for a picture book on pregnancy. A young girl describes the changes in her mother's appearance, and temperament, month by month as the family anticipates the arrival of a new baby. The girl also charts the baby's development from a tiny blob to a moving phenomenon, and finally to a healthy sibling. Connie Fletcher in Booklist praised Baby on Board as "a delightful choice" for children whose parents are expecting another infant.

Gray has been known to describe himself as a child who never grew up. He has been a collector since his youth and especially likes items related to Pokemon and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 1, 2000, Tim Arnold, review of Eat Your Peas, p. 122; December 15, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of The "Get Well Soon" Book: Good Wishes for Bad Times, p. 826; August, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of Billy's Bucket, p. 1989; April 1, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of Cluck O'Clock, p. 1368; May 15, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of Baby on Board, p. 1625.

Christian Parenting Today, July, 2001, Jennifer Mangan, review of The "Get Well Soon" Book, p. 53.

Publishers Weekly, September 18, 2000, review of Eat Your Peas, p. 111; October 20, 2003, review of Our Twitchy, p. 53; March 15, 2004, review of Cluck O'Clock, p. 74.

School Library Journal, September, 2000, Lisa Dennis, review of Eat Your Peas, p. 198; February, 2001, Jane Marino, review of The "Get Well Soon" Book: Good Wishes for Bad Times, p. 100; December, 2003, Kristin de Lacoste, review of Our Twitchy, p. 114; March, 2004, Martha Topol, review of Cluck O'Clock, p. 169.*

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