He’s big and burly, but behind the seemingly brusque exterior of this larger-than-life gorilla there lurks a solitary figure who yearns to find friendship.
Only problem is that his bulk scares any potential friends away: when Mr Big enters the café, everyone flees from their frothy cappuccinos; when he hops on the bus, everyone else hops off; and when he goes to the swimming pool, everyone scarpers… leaving one forlorn fella. What’s a gorilla to do? As he strolls down the street, his eyes catch a piano in a shop window. “It looked all alone. Just like him.”
So Mr Big makes a purchase, carrying it upstairs on his back single-handedly, before sitting down to the piano, closing his eyes, and letting his fingers play… As the jazz notes float on the air, everyone who hears the music is mesmerized, and it’s the start of a new beginning for Mr Big, pianist extraordinaire.
So where does the inspiration for the melancholic jazz man come from?
I usually start by doodling and eventually I’ll come up with a character I like the look of,” says Vere. “In this case, I drew a gorilla playing a piano who managed to look quite scary and quite vulnerable at the same time, which was a nice contrast.
The book is essentially about being different, “something I think most children will feel at one time or another in their lives”, says Ed, who hopes that children will find a positive message about social exclusion and acceptance. “I wanted to draw a parallel with the child who might be alone in the playground and feels awkward about themselves because they feel different in some way,” says Ed. “It might provide a talking point and show them that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The book is also a visual treat. Vere’s style is bold and exciting, with a vibrant and rich colour palette that manages to portray emotion and feeling. Mr Big’s size also gives lots of scope for images that play on his bigness, like his huge gorilla hands reading the note from a mystery admirer.
Music also plays a central role: it has healing powers, and becomes the means through which Mr Big gains acceptance and understanding from others. It also give Vere a chance to give the book a cool jazzy vibe.
“I’ve always been a bit of a jazz fan, especially anything with the piano and I’ve always liked the ‘look’ around that world,” says Ed. “It’s both romantic and exciting which is a great combination. The really exciting thing about jazz is the ability to improvise which speaks a lot about freedom. The book is very loosely set in 1950s New Orleans which was visually, as well as musically, a hugely exciting place and time.”
So is Mr Big playing the blues? “I think he probably is playing some blues with a little Keith Jarrett thrown in, but by the end he’s playing something more joyful, maybe be-bop, because he’s found friendship. Mr Big goes from having no friends, because people are scared of him, to lots of friends because through his music people see beyond his exterior and realise he’s not such a scary gorilla, after all.”
Did you know There are many shades of blues music. Forms include traditional county blues; Jump blues, a danceable mash-up of swing and blues and a precursor to R&B; boogie-woogie, a piano-based blues derived from ragtime; Chicago blues, Delta blues electrified; cool blues, a sophisticated piano-based jazz; and West Coast blues, popularized by Texas musicians who moved to California and were heavily influenced by the swing beat. The Texas blues, Memphis blues, and St. Louis blues consist of a wide variety of sub genres. Louisiana blues is characterized by a swampy guitar or harmonica sound with lots of echo, while Kansas City blues is jazz oriented – think big band player Count Basie. There is also the British blues, a rock-blues hybrid pioneered by John Mayall, Peter Green and Eric Clapton.
Fun facts The flamboyant Jazz Age of the Roaring Twenties was responsible for a raft of lively new slang, including flapper, speakeasy, ace, hooch, big cheese, jazzbos, bootlegger, crush, cat’s whiskers, the bee’s knees, gatecrasher, whoopee, floorflusher, juice point, splifficated, swanky, vamp, scram, lounge lizards, stool pigeons, tommy gums and dirty rats.
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.