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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Claude Ponti
Age Range: 6-8
Following on from My Valley, here is another wondrous creation from one of France’s most celebrated children’s writers and illustrators, Claude Ponti.
Sadly, Hīznobyūtī is not a handsome baby. His parents and siblings all say, “He’s no beauty!” They say it so often that he assumes Hīznobyūtī is his name. Noticing that he doesn’t look like the rest of the family Hīznobyūtī makes himself a mask so that he looks like everyone else. He also has some idiosyncratic ways: from tying his family up with ropes, which usually is a disaster, to sometimes taking a coffee-and-milk bath and making toasty boats slathered with chocolate cheesy jam.
Often when things don’t go right he hides under the sink to cry, staying there hours at a time because no one bothers him, in fact the family forget all about him. So Hīznobyūtī decides to set up home under the sink where he meets Martin Clock who becomes his constant companion. He learns to read and write by eating alphabet soup and builds his invention – a giant ‘communophone’ – so he can communicate with the stars. One night he is rewarded when the stars answer by telling him that somewhere on another planet he is needed.
After a fight with his family, Hīznobyūtī decides to run away and it is then that his real adventure begins. He learns lots of new things about the secrets of the universe as well as about himself.
Hīznobyūtī is a strange, poignant, and empowering journey of self-discovery and rich in offbeat detail. With a delightful nonsensical element in the storytelling this book is a joy to read and pour over. Ponti mixes pathos and hilarity so well, beautifully captured in the excellent translation by Alyson Waters. The reader can empathise with Hīznobyūtī’s unhappiness and the cruelty of his family but will also be uplifted by his determination, self-preservation, and ability to forgive.
Ponti’s luscious and surreal illustrations are stunning in conveying the comic episodes - Hīznobyūtī slaying an enormous monster with one colossal sneeze, doing his ‘Tree Pose’ or the clever references to modern-day with the Busybody that falls from the sky which is an image of a radio with wings and the Know-It-All-Box which is an image of a Television.
Another truly visual treat from Ponti that is sure to become a firm favourite.