Sunday, September 1, 2013

THE FRANK SHOW, by David Mackintosh

1.  BIBLIOGRAPHY

Mackintosh, David.  2012.  The Frank Show.  New York, NY:  Abrams.

2.  PLOT SUMMARY

13591173A young boy must give a report about a family member, and the only one he can interview is his grandpa, Frank, who is always around and does not like anything.  He is portrayed as a boring subject to speak about.  Frank “doesn’t always like the way things are.  And he always does things his way.”  The other kids have cool relatives to talk about, like an uncle who plays drums or an aunt who swam the English Channel.  However, without any other option, the boy reluctantly gives his report, listing all the things his grandfather does not like, but then his grandfather tells a story of a battle he was in, and the class loves him after all. 

3.  CRITICAL ANALYSIS

This delightful picture book is a quirky, zany look at what happens when the young and the elderly must interact in a meaningful way.

Author-illustrator David Mackintosh grew up in Belfast, but lives in London.  Nevertheless, there are very few clues that this is an international book.  There is one image with a car that has a European license plate and the scene of the city may have buildings that someone in London could recognize, but I do not.  In the end scene, Grandpa Frank is wearing a red coat and carrying a bugle, so perhaps he fought for England, but this is never stated and it does not really matter.  What matters to the children—and the young reader-- is that bullets whistled past him, he still has shrapnel in his arm and he has a blurry green tattoo.  He is unexpectedly COOL.

The child is in a modern classroom and the assignment is the type of assignment that is probably found around the world.  There are other clues that this is a modern story, to include the modern dress of the boy and mother, the skateboard on the kitchen floor and the references to modern items such as electric guitars and Hannah’s mom arriving in the company car.  

The art is a brilliant kaleidoscope of many sketchy images of what looks like pencil, ink and some mixed media.  The images are often overlapping and contain whimsical, hilarious touches in the details.  The longer you look, the more you find, making it a great book for repeated readings with a child.  For example, when Frank is telling about leading the troops into battle, the horses behind him are not your everyday cavalry.  One is a Roman gladiator, one horse has a unicorn horn and another horse is being ridden by a jockey…and the jockey has wings on him.  Clearly, we are not supposed to believe that Frank, “captured one hundred enemy soldiers with nothing but his wit and brute force…” but he does have some kind of battle experience and he does save the day for his grandson, which is a great victory for them both.

There is a heavy use of charcoal grey, punctuated by brilliant yellow, often seen in Frank’s glasses.  Except for his glasses, Frank himself is usually rendered nearly completely in shades of grey, even his skin tone.  The huge, vibrant yellow glasses make Frank stand out to the reader and sets him apart from his grandson, who is always much smaller than his larger-than-life grandfather. The grey shows his connection to the past and also shows how boring he is to his grandson, who repeats several times that Frank is "just a grandpa."  

The scenes that include the school children are done in full color.  The grandson is usually in color as well, except he is shown in grey when he is preparing for his speech, alone and scared and sad.  The scene with the city is swirling with color—except for the tiny grey figures of grandpa and grandson.  The colors therefore guide the viewer, even subconsciously, to understand the two different approaches to life that these characters have and the emotions they experience.

The art also gives us the clue that this grandpa has a penchant for elaborating and embellishing the past, as the images included in reference to the tougher times when “he was younger” include even a dinosaur and a witch.  The text even reflects his strong personality, becoming much larger and bold when Frank states, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” His storytelling abilities will come into play later in the story.

In addition to his huge yellow glasses, Frank sports a mustache, a hearing aid and a hat—and often has crossed arms, clearly communicating a stereotypical grumpy old man.  In the scene in the car, he is totally grey like the car (the car has yellow headlights instead) and only his young grandson stands out in color.  Frank listens to an old fashioned phonograph, uses a “prehistoric” typewriter and takes photos with a camera that looks like it is from the 1930’s.  He is, in short, from a different culture than his thoroughly modern grandson.  So even though this book is not obviously an international book, it is about two cultures connecting in the end.  

The contrast of grey (and seemingly dull) Grandpa Frank with the brightly colored modern world ends during show-and-tell.  When Frank tells the stories of his battles to the children and is admired for them, he is finally shown in full brilliant color, with peachy skin instead of grey and wearing a bright red jacket and what looks like a safari helmet.  He has finally “come alive” to the little boy—and perhaps even to himself.

The young children love Frank at the end of the story, and each has a little comment about him that they have learned, some of which are very funny, such as, “He keeps a real Japanese sword under his bed,” and “He hasn’t bought a new pair of pants in ten years.”  He is accepted and celebrated for who he is, which is the spirit of multicultural literature.

4.  REVIEW EXCERPTS:

"Rendered mostly in ink, watercolor, pencil, and some mixed-media collage, the cartoon illustrations are very funny.  Frank's oversize glasses with a missing right temple enhance the mood.  A sweet story that proves elderly relatives can be cool after all." -- School Library Journal, October 1, 2012.

"The boy approaches show-and-tell like a prisoner headed for the gallows. (Mackintosh draws him all alone in gray, while his classmates laugh and shout in color on the opposing page), but there's more to Frank than his grandson realizes.  Mackintosh's busy, helter-skelter images contribute mightily to the story's humor and emotional honesty, but it's the willful personalities of both of these protagonists that make it stand out." -- Publisher's Weekly, July 9, 2012.

"A fresh look at taking a fresh look." -- Booklist, September 1, 2012

Parent's Choice Award Winner

USBBY Winner 2013


5.  CONNNECTIONS

  • Have students interview one of their own grandparents or an older person in their community for their own show and tell.
  • Compare and contrast all of the old pieces of technology in the book (even if only visible in the illustrations) with today’s modern equivalent.  Can students recognize the old fashioned radio and telephone across from the title page?  Would they be able to figure out which object is the film projector on the end pages?  This could be a fun history/social project, using social media to compare/contrast the time eras represented.
  • Do an author study by reading Standing in for Lincoln Green.

6.  PERSONAL REACTIONS

This book is so much fun to read.  With the wacky and clever art, it’s like playing a game of hide-and-seek with the author, finding fun mixed media images tucked away in unexpected locations, such as the actual tiny photograph included on the pencil or ink shelf across from the title page—it does not say, but perhaps it’s a picture of the author/illustrator as a child, with a sibling. 

Works Referenced

Mackintosh, David.  2013. Standing in for Lincoln Green.  New York, NY:  Abrams.

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