The charmingly grumpy crocodile on the front of this book is young Achilles, who desperately wants to forgo his diet of bananas and eat a child instead. His Mum and Dad are concerned at his sudden loss of appetite and attempt to coax him into eating by providing him with a large sausage and an equally enormous chocolate cake. To no avail, however. Achilles will not be tricked into eating and stalks off to the river to find himself a child to eat.
Now to that point we have only seen Achilles in relation to members of his family. To that point you are reading with a very small concern that there may actually be some child-eating involved in the story, and wondering quite how to broach the subject with a potentially concerned pre-schooler. Then this happens.
The shift in scale is well-handled and very funny. Achilles’ attempts at self-aggrandisement come to nothing and the little girl tickles him on the tummy and throws him in the river, at which point an indignant little crocodile marches back to Mum and Dad and declares he is back on the bananas so he can get big… “Big enough to eat a child!”
The illustrations in the book are fun, bright and charismatic, with a lovely feel for the setting. The book was originally written in French (under the title Je mangerais bien un enfant) and there is a very slight foreign edge to the rhythm of the language in translation, which actually works well for creating a ‘voice’ for the crocodile family. The premise is funny, but straightforward, with the kind of ironic humour that appeals to children and adults alike. There is also the subtext of a commentary on fussy eating; for those who are on the pickier side of the table, the message is clear enough – eat what your Mum and Dad tell you to so you can get big enough to eat what you like – but perhaps not dramatic enough to really engage the child on that particular level. However, it could certainly provoke a conversation about nutrition and eating, and notwithstanding its status as a ‘message’ book, it is entertaining and enjoyable without even taking that into account.
Achilles is an appealing and memorable little crocodile; it’s certainly worth making his acquaintance if you get the chance.