A collaboration between writer Giovanna Zoboli and illustrator Mariachiara di Giorgio, this wordless book follows what might appear to be a rather mundane storyline – that of a character getting up in the morning and going to work. Only this character is a crocodile, and his job is entertaining the public at the zoo.
From the opening images we see both the humour and the underlying pathos of the story. The front endpapers show a night-time scene of a calm tropical river, lush vegetation and inquisitive monkeys peeping through leaves, suggesting an untamed wilderness just made for water-loving reptiles.
Gradually, though, we realise this pleasant vision is merely a dream – much like we humans might dream of a luxurious holiday – and that the ‘real’ crocodile of the story is the one dozing in bed just before his morning alarm is due to ring. His life is not that of the unfettered wild, rather the busy city, and he has work to do.
Up he gets, and attends to those morning routines familiar to us all – going to the bathroom, choosing clothes, eating breakfast – before heading off on his commute across the city. Most of those he passes are humans, but every now and again other animal characters can be glimpsed, such as a leopard, a hippo and a giraffe. Nobody bats an eyelid; the crowd is what it is. Finally our crocodile arrives at the zoo and, after giving the girl in the entrance booth a posy of flowers (maybe he’s sweet on her?), he puts his stuff in a locker, does his exercises and heads into an enclosure to entertain the public.
This is such a rich book, full of witty details, clever characterisation and shrewd observations that just beg to be discussed. For instance spot the chance meeting of two neighbours in the lift, who cannot bring themselves to speak to each other but who acknowledge their acquaintance with a tip of a hat. Or the cyclist whizzing by whistling a tune; or the two men dozing on a crowded metro train; or the boy crossing his eyes and licking his nose to impress his girl companion; or the couple kissing on a park bench. Each has his or her potential story.
The setting of a modern busy city is one that most of us would instantly recognise. Packed with streets, shops, escalators and advertising hoardings, it is full of people of every shape and sort who just muddle along quietly together. All you can ask for, really – though the final endpaper subtly reminds us of the tropical paradise of the crocodile’s earlier dream.