“Two monkeys, one banana, BIG TROUBLE!” says illustrator and author Ed Vere when pushed to sum up his fruity fable in one sentence. It’s also a glorious vignette of family life and sibling rivalry – albeit of the Simian variety – with a lesson about sharing.
The book features an all-too-familiar familial scenario: one monkey has a banana, the other one wants it, the first is reluctant to give it up, there are tears and a tantrum – and a monumental battle ensues. But what makes this bright and graphic book really ingenious is that the text consists of just two words: ‘Banana’ and ‘Please.’
But where the words are few, the brilliantly animated illustrations are packed with plenty of emotions and visual comedy, conveyed by body language and facial expressions that speak volumes.
Two little monkeys run the gamut of emotions from playful excitement, anticipation, hope, disappointment, anger, regret and reconciliation – it’s all here, in pictures and two words.
So where did the idea of monkeys spring from? “The monkey actually featured as one of the prison inmates in The Getaway,” says Vere. “When I was working on a new book, I was still intrigued by the idea of the monkey, and just started doing some sketches. By the end of the evening, I had the basis of Banana!”
The epic tussle for supremacy of the two unnamed protagonists (distinguishable by their tops – one red and white stripes, the other blue and white) was also inspired by the “healthy amount of squabbling” between Ed and his brother as children. “As I was drawing, I was thinking about my poor mum and how awful my brother and I were sometimes,” says Ed, who – by way of making amends – dedicated this book ‘For Mum’.
Parents will also identify with the toddleresque battle of wills over ownership of the sparring monkeys and their reluctance to share, but their extreme antics are very comical, too. There’s also a moral about manners (a simple “Please” goes a long way, especially if combined with a bottom lip pout and doe eyes) and a lesson on compromise (how about half a banana each?).
But will it hard for parents to ‘read’ a book with so few words? “I do think the mark of a good picture book is that it should be able to tell the story through pictures alone,” says Ed. “That’s not to say that words are not important, but you can convey a lot through the images.” The minimal text also means that the scenarios prompt discussion between parent and child; it might even help your child learn to read other people’s physical cues and body language, which can be a useful life skill.
This is a deliciously colourful book, with a bright yellow cover and backgrounds in a rainbow of vivid hues, against which the monkeys’ dark elongated flailing limbs and long tails stand out in bold spidery contrast.
My favourite is the moment where Red Monkey finally loses the plot and all the colours converge as he reaches melt-down. (Of course, he doesn’t scream “aaaargh!” but instead cries “Banana!!”)
There’s also a passing reference to Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground and Nico album cover ‘Banana’ on the end papers. “Well spotted,” says Ed. “It is a tiny homage to Andy Warhol, as I am a fan. I love how he was able to reduce something into an essence that’s simple to understand, but is still appealing and beautiful. If Banana! has something of that too then I’m very happy.”
Did you know? Andy Warhol designed the iconic banana motif for the Velvet Underground’s debut album cover in 1967. The original cover was designed so fans could peel back the banana skin. The intricate paper mechanics were difficult to achieve and were partly to blame for the album’s delayed release, but record label MGM deemed it warranted, since having Warhol’s stamp of approval counted for a lot in the 1960s.
Fun fruity facts Not always yellow, bananas can be found in other colours, including red. Most species of banana plant originated in Southeast Asia and today India is the world’s leading producer of bananas. Banana plants are not trees, they are a type of herb, and bananas grow in large, hanging bunches. A row of bananas is sometimes called a ‘hand’, while a single banana is called a ‘finger’.
Author details Ed Vere studied fine art at Camberwell College of Art and has been writing and illustrating children’s books since 1999. His first picture book, ‘The Getaway’, won the Highland Children’s Book Award in 2007. His second, ‘Banana’, was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway prize in 2008. His third, ‘Mr Big’ was chosen by Booktrust as the official Booktime book for 2009 and was distributed to 750,000 British schoolchildren making it the largest single print run of a picture book. His fourth, ‘Chick’, (a pop-up book) won the Booktrust Early Years Award for best baby book for 2009. Ed was the World Book Day illustrator for 2009 and the official illustrator for Hay Fever, Hay Festival 2009. His book ‘Bedtime for Monsters’ was shortlisted for the 2011 Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Ed is also a painter, working from his studio in East London and is represented by galleries in London and Los Angeles. After a year and a half living in Barcelona, Ed now lives and works in London.