Book Review: How to be Famous, by Michal Shalev

Available in bookshops in February 

cv_how_to-be_famousMichal Shalev has created the toughest pigeon since Mo Willems’ eponymous Pigeon (who
wanted to drive the bus). He may not be quite as wise-crackin’ as Willems’ pigeon, but what he lacks in street-smarts he gains in sheer gumption.

This pigeon is a famous pigeon, and he’s going to tell you how you, too, can become famous. The first spread introduces us to his famous family. “My uncle is famous for his bravery in the third cat war, where he lost his foot.” His other uncle is famous for having millions of girlfriends. The spread of famous pigeons successfully skewers types of fame on several levels: we’ve got the WAGs of the lady-loving Uncle, those who are famous for their job, their sports ability, where they live.

Our famous pigeon is a model, with thousands of people taking photos of him every day – his crocodile catwalk is particularly admired. But are they really taking photos of him? As we follow our friend through the pages, we realise that there are always other things of interest around as the lightbulbs are going off. And when he says he gets to sit at the table at lunchtime, the stylistic illustration makes it clear how welcome he is there. Perhaps fame isn’t always a positive thing?

This book is a subtle gem, with very effective illustrations. The eyes stand out for most of the images as we make our way around the zoo with our friend, but nothing is overdrawn or unnecessary. People are cartoon-like without being grotesque, and every line drawn is full of expression. Most images are rendered in one or two colour washes, with dashes of white and black used to highlight. My favourite animals are easily the grumpy, gossiping penguins: this spread, like all of the illustrations are loaded with meaning, without even needing to read the text.

The final spread shows just how fleeting fame can be, to my son’s hilarity. I am very happy that Gecko Press has brought yet another fantastic international children’s author to our attention. I look forward to seeing more from Israeli author/illustrator, Michal Shalev.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

How to be Famous
by Michal Shalev
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570294

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