After the Big Bang, Who Am I?

Thingamabob – written and illustrated by Marianna Coppo
Tundra Books, 2022

Once you’ve seen some aspect of the world the way Marianna Coppo presents it, you won’t go back to seeing it the old way.  A light bulb, a rock, and now a shape-shifting product of imagination’s big bang, all become illuminated.  Just as a light bulb can experience the anxiety of change, and a seemingly inert rock can be a friend, things are not merely what they appear to be. Nor are thingamabobs. What are these flexible products of our imagination? 

Maybe a child in your life knows that the universe is the product of an explosion of sorts, known metaphorically as “the big bang.” Even if she doesn’t, she will understand that the people and objects on her life have to come from somewhere; once they arrive, they have a role.  But that role, even for a child herself, can become confusing. 

Sure, there are the nice, solid entities of Coppo’s delightful pictures: an elephant, a double helix, an origami crane. That last object had to have been developed in someone’s hands, while the first evolved according to Darwin’s theory. Then there are thingamabobs, strangely dynamic blobs that can’t seem to find their assigned place in the world. But is that a bad thing?

Careful composition, as in her other books, presents Coppo’s reader with a clearly defined space.  Dark font against a white background, and a limited color palette featuring the orange thingamabob, show how different he is from the gray and black figures surrounding him.  An uneasy chair, an awkward hat, a failed kite, an inadequately rounded basketball, even a question mark, express the problem of someone who just want to fit in somewhere. “What’s the use of this thingamabob?” readers are invited to ask.

Fortunately, he approaches a boy at a sandbox, and soon he is as malleable as sand, but more playful and animated.  A sphinx, a hula hoop, and a plane are just some of the possibilities of someone who, moments before, had been afraid that he was just the useless by-product of creation. 

Coppo shows a deep connection to the way children think, a quality she shares with best authors and artists for young readers.  When the thingamabob curls up to share a bedtime story with his new friend, the book they share is Coppo’s homage to Maurice Sendak, an unmatched example of the adult who remembers exactly what it meant to be a child.  Even without the book’s dedication, “To the square pegs,” we that that she identifies with everyone who was ever gratified to learn that “if you aren’t one thing, you can be anything.”

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