I Don't Like Koala by Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso
I Don’t Like Koala is written by Sean Ferrell and illustrated by Charles Santoso, and it's the tale of a little boy with a creepy koala friend, who learns that perhaps the devil you know is better than the alternative. This is another one I picked up at Powell’s in Portland (along with Sparky!) and it has that same lovely use of white space that made Sparky! so great.
The book opens with our protagonist, Adam, receiving a stuffed koala as a gift. Koala looks a little… eccentric, and Adam is having NONE of it.
The thing that attracted me to koala is that he’s just so flipping grotesque. His mustard yellow eyes are ever watchful - pointing in opposite directions, of course. His fur is coarse and scratchy, and there is a floppy, rubbery quality to his limbs and body that make him seem just a little more like a dead animal than a plush toy.
Despite all of this, koala has a certain tragic appeal. He didn’t ask to be creepy and hideous. And yet he finds himself being tossed around, abandoned, and stuffed into all sorts of weird places over the course of the book. Despite this egregious treatment, he always comes back for more. It’s inspirational, really.
Santoso’s illustration style in this book incorporates a subtle crosshatch that lends a really wonderful tactile quality to the pages. Combined with the miles of white space (not always used to its full potential in children’s books, as I’ve mentioned before, the illustrations have a depth and elegance that is deceptively difficult to achieve.
One spread that I loved in particular is a detailed extreme close up of koala very early on, to show the reader the magnitude of his terrible-terrible-ness (pictured below). I think part of the reason why I found this one so great is that I personally struggle with close ups of characters in traditional media. They require a fair bit of attention to detail, and if you’ve developed a character with action scenes and long shots in mind, it can be hard to visualise that character in close quarters.
Another fun touch is the way the house interior transforms into a whimsical outdoor landscape, giving us a look into Adam’s imagination. It’s got a distinctly Calvin and Hobbes feel, which is a-okay with me.
What’s great about Adam and Koala’s story is that there’s no big moment where Koala reveals some hidden talent or special quality that makes Adam love him - it’s the situation that changes, and Adam’s feelings adjust accordingly. Maybe I’m reading subtext that isn’t there, but it seems to me that this book teaches kids an important lesson - that it’s okay to change your mind just because.
There are elements in the style that feel quite contemporary - notably Koala’s beady, wide-set eyes and floppy arms, a la Gravity Falls or Adventure Time. However, the warmth of the traditional illustration style, the charm of the characters’ facial expressions, and even the classic typesetting combine to deliver a timeless tale of the love between a boy and his koala.
Maybe I’ve got Sparky on the brain (because it’s flipping awesome, obviously), but I love the parallel stories between the two - a kid, their fluffy friend, and in the end, a total disregard for what anyone else has to say.
Make sure you snag your own copy here. And get excited, because Ferrell and Santoso have teamed up again - their next picture book collboration The Snurtch is available for -preorder, and it promises to be amazeballs.