When a book this quirky comes along, you can’t help but notice. Check out the quote by Kurt Vonnegut on the front cover, describing author/illustrator Ralph Steadman:
“The most gifted and effective existentialist graphic artist of my time”
On the front of a picture book? That will make you do a double take. It also makes you wonder if this is aimed at Steadman’s adult fans more than kids. But then you read it. Pizza belt buckles, pet woodpeckers wearing overalls, and war with water balloons all mingle to create a tale that is definitely for kids, and thoroughly odd.
The events (and the biscuits) are real. After years fighting battles in South America with an army of Italian exiles, General Giuseppe Garibaldi returned to Italy. There he and his men temporarily fought back the invading French army (aka the Bourbons). The specifics are peculiar. The Bourbons kidnap Garibaldi’s grandparents to cook for them. Undaunted, our hero and his men wage water balloon war on the Bourbons. Garibaldi is victorious, but his sympathetic grandmother decides to make the defeated soldiers something to eat. The titular biscuits are born.
I found myself wondering “what is the truth here?” The mixture of fact and fiction may be difficult for some, who like things a bit more straightforward. An afterword is provided to help clarify matters.
Another hurdle is the fact that most American kids (or adults, for that matter) aren’t familiar with the Garibaldi biscuit. Originally published in the UK, this title may suffer from a cultural divide of cuisine.
Even if you don’t know him by name, you’re likely familiar with Steadman’s art through his association with Hunter S. Thompson. The scribbly ink and watercolor illustrations are indeed striking. Characters are rendered in a warped reality, where gravity and proportion are optional. I quite like these pictures, which remind me most in style and medium of a more maniacal version of Quentin Blake’s work.
Wild rides can be fun, but some are more worth taking than others. This one isn’t for every collection, but fans of the quirky (and the biscuit), be warned.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.