Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon – Review by Christine Bennett
When our UPS man delivers a box of new releases, I try to spend the next few hours reading (between customers). I start with picture books, then skim the early readers and middle grade, scribbling little lists of opinions the whole time.
Most rarely the new releases earn notes like this: *unable to speak because I’m so overcome with emotion and the greatness of the book that I need a few minutes to myself* and (once able to speak) “That was genius- I must purchase it immediately and I will carry it on our shelves for as long as it’s in print (which is hopefully forever) and will have all my friends, family, and (willing) customers read it. I will carry it around with me for the next several weeks for ease of sharing.”
This review is about one book that fell into the this category.
Herman and Rosie is a picture book by Gus Gordon. On its cover is a crocodile, named Herman Schubert, dressed in a blue suit and tie and playing the oboe, and Rosie Bloom, a deer in a sequined red dress holding a microphone. The scene for our story is New York City, and Herman and Rosie have never met each other although they live in adjacent apartment buildings. Readers of all ages delight in getting to know these two characters, as we learn that:
Herman: “likes potted plants, playing the oboe, wild boysenberry yogurt, the smell of hot dogs in winter, and watching films about the ocean”
and Rosie: “likes pancakes, listening to old jazz records, the summertime subway breeze, toffees that stuck to her teeth, singing on the fire escape, and watching films about the ocean.”
(The three-year-old and upward crowd at storytime like to comment: “Herman and Rosie both like watching films about the ocean!”)
Rosie works at an uptown restaurant, rides her bicycle to singing lessons after work, and performs at “The Mangy Hound Jazz Club” on Thursdays. Herman works in an office building selling “things,” and likes to play the oboe outside of his apartment looking out over the city.
One day, on his way home, Herman hears singing coming from a building (the same building where Rosie is taking singing lessons). He can’t get the tune out of his head. That night, while taking a bath, Rosie’s toes start to tingle as she hears a “groovy little Jazz number” coming from outside. (That, of course, is Herman playing the oboe on the roof of his apartment.)
Gordon continues weaving the story of their lives dappled with missed connections, at times alive with the city’s glow of possibility but sometimes lost in its ironic anonymity.
After her number one Thursday, Rosie is told that the Mangy Hound Club is closing down. (Storytime listeners often infer this, as only two seats were taken at the Mangy Hound during her show.) Meanwhile, Herman’s boss, a small koala sporting a suit, presents Herman’s sales graph. He isn’t selling enough things. He’ll have to clean out his cubicle.
This is, as declared in storytime, “the sad part.” The city is no longer buzzing and bright, but boisterous and bleak. Herman and Rosie, both forlorn, retreat to their small apartments. Herman puts his oboe under his bed. Rosie doesn’t feel like singing. They both decide to watch their entire Jacques Cousteau underwater film collection. Days pass, and the city looks darker than ever.
Then one day, Rosie wakes up and feels like having some sticky toffee! Herman sits up in bed and wants some boysenberry yogurt! It’s a nice day outside, so they both go for a walk. On a full page spread, we see their separate paths, weaving through tall buildings, riding a boat around the Statue of Liberty, and stopping in central park, where they both order a hot dog from the same stand.
Then, they walk home. Alone, but feeling a great deal better.
That night, Herman slides his oboe out from under his bed and goes to the roof to play a tune. Rosie, who’s making pancakes for dinner, drops her frying pan when she hears that oh-so-groovy tune through her window and follows the music.
The ending brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. It gets me every time, leaving me renewed with hope and feeling awfully warm and fuzzy inside.
Gordon compliments his perfectly crafted story with wonderful mixed media illustrations (including watercolors, pencil, and collage), full of clever details that make this story one that can be read again and again, with something new to be discovered each time. There’s a bear on a scooter, buildings shaped from New York Times cut-outs, and bicycling on the Brooklyn Bridge. The hues of the illustrations change with plot turns. The expressions of the characters convey the sadness of loneliness but also the simple joy of a good day, like the moment just before taking the first bite of a hot dog from an outdoor stand.
Herman and Rosie is a story that brings us together. Great for children and adults, city-dwellers, musicians, romantics, visitors to NYC, as a wedding gift, and for pretty much anyone else, Gus Gordon has created a masterpiece of a picture book. I hope you like it as much as I do and that you’ll find it at your local indie bookseller!
Christine Bennett has shared her love of children’s literature as a bookseller at The Elephant’s Trunk Children’s Bookshop in Lexington, MA for the past 3 ½ years, and has just started working at the Eric Carle Museum Bookshop in Amherst, MA. She’s also currently preparing to lead a trip to a rural island in the Bahamas to create a library for the community this January. She loves reading, hosting book clubs for kids, and helping great people find great books to read. You can find her favorite books at bearsbookshelf.weebly.com, and can follow her on Twitter @bearsbookshelf. This is her first Nerdy post!