Dave Eggers says Tomi Ungerer’s last children’s book can help us all handle a very (scary) adult world
The writer says Ungerer’s final book is a fitting work for an age of eco collapse and very bad politics
The late, great children’s author, Tomi Ungerer was good friends with the equally highly praised kids’ writer, Maurice Sendak. Ungerer and Sendak shared a shared a disdain for a certain cliched view of young persons’ literature, a limited, childish worldview that Sendak characterised as ‘Kiddiebookland’: “that awful place that we’ve been squeezed into because we’re children’s book illustrators or children's book writers,” he once said.
The American writer and publisher Dave Eggers shares these sympathies. In a recent article published in the New York Times, Eggers – who adapted Sendak’s most famous book, Where the Wild Things Are, for the big screen – argues that Ungerer “was a wonderfully idiosyncratic, uncompromising artist whose books never condescended to young readers with platitudes or secondhand morality.”
The ultimate evidence of this artistry lies in Ungerer’s final book, Nonstop, written and illustrated at the very end of his life (Ungerer died in 2019) which Phaidon is proud to publish this autumn.
“It would be hard to argue that Ungerer’s Nonstop takes place in Kiddiebookland,” Eggers writes. “For starters, it features no kids. In terms of plot, it depicts the collapse of civilization. I’m not sure it’s a bedtime book for any adult or child, but I am sure it’s a masterpiece.”
Aimlessly wandering the empty streets, with only his shadow for company, Vasco soon discovers that his ever-changing, penumbral companion can warn him of danger ahead. And so, a charming yet perilous journey begins.
After escaping a series of pitfalls his shadow leads him to a strange creature called Nothing. It soon becomes clear that Vasco must get Nothing’s newborn child, Poco, to safety. Nonstop dangers await them at every step, but Vasco’s shadow leads the way. Together they flee through apocalyptic landscapes until they reach a safe haven. Here, Vasco’s shadow quietly disappears.
You’re unlikely to find such a tough, uncompromising story such as this cropping up on Disney+ any time soon, but Eggers, who has written award-winning works of fiction and non-fiction for both young and old audiences, finds much to admire in this hard, flinty, children’s tale.
“In a world now facing environmental catastrophe and a resurgence of fascist sympathies in Europe and the Americas, Nonstop could not be more timely,” he writes. “Ungerer has created an all-ages classic, a fitting capstone on a fearless career - and just in time.” Want to discover just how fitting and timely? Then get a copy of Nonstop here.