God Bless the Gar­goyles is a most unex­pected treasure. At first glance, just from its cover, the average grand­parent, looking for that perfect children’s book to read aloud, might very well pass this one by. Its cover is dark and almost fore­boding. Yet, look again. There’s some­thing tender in the blue angel’s face and look at the way its arm is wrapped all the way around the forlorn gar­goyle. Maybe the book isn’t scary after all.

The strength of a good picture book is the power of illus­tra­tions to illu­minate a story. Dav Pilkey, both author and illus­trator in this case, has mas­ter­fully blended both ele­ments in God Bless the Gar­goyles. The story of the crea­tures, created in Midieval times to guard and protect churches, is told in attention grabbing rhyme: “in a long-​​ago time, when long-​​ago peoples/​were building cathe­drals and raising up steeples,/they crafted stone crea­tures and set them on perches/​to guard and protect and watch over the churches./” Pilkey does not write down to his readers or the read-​​to. Even a small child, uncertain of the dif­ference between a church and a cathedral or whether crafted means the same thing as made or man­u­fac­tured, can follow along on the strength of Pilkey’s paintings.  In addition, the author has wisely framed his text so that his verse is never hidden by his illustrations.

Pilkey’s art imag­i­na­tively illus­trates his verse as when time passes from people looking at the gar­goyles in fear, until “as time went along, people’s fear turned to spite.”  The fearful people on the lefthand page are seen looking up at the crea­tures while their own hands make the Sign of the Cross, clutch a child to their chest and one with a hand raised. Although the painting of the cathedral, cov­ering both pages, remains the same, the people on the righthand page all have their hands raised, including a nun, in obvious anger. The passage of time is also subtly evident in the dif­ferent clothing worn by the two groups of people on opposing pages.

The gar­goyles, sad­dened to tears by the hurtful way people regard them, are mirac­u­lously visited by nearby angels who hear their pain on a stormy, rainy night. The angels come and sit beside each one, giving love and comfort enough for both angels and gar­goyles to take joyful flight. And on that page, if you look care­fully at the angels in the stained glass windows, you’ll see one angel with a white dove gently in hand.

Pilkey’s verse then asks for blessings upon stormy nights and for all those who feel they don’t belong. The blessings con­tinue to embrace those who have gone before and those who are left behind. The angels and gar­goyles fly over hills and neigh­bor­hoods and cities and it is there, in a street scene, that we see angels giving comfort and love to the homeless and poor. It is also the scene of a diner with a bright reflective light of yellow, the same diner and color of hope in Edward Hopper’s famous painting, Nighthawks.

Hopper isn’t the only person Pilkey pays homage to in this won­derful book. There is a hint of Chagall in the flight of angels and Charles Dickens is also brought to mind in the last words of the story, “god bless the gar­goyles. God bless us all.”

This is a book for every person, no matter what age. God bless Dav Pilkey.

Thanks!

  • Stdboar

    Sunny, After reading this review I imme­di­ately thought of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the new section that was put in after the Loma Prieta earth­quake of 1989. Before the workers fin­ished, they put up a gar­goyle on the outside of the section but you can only see it from below (unless you want to hang over the side!). I was made aware of it by a sailor who brought it to my attention on a sail soon after the section was fin­ished. Nat­u­rally, we used binoc­ulars as it is a long way up to the bridge from the water. It is on the north side of the section.
    But of course it’s there to protect the com­mutors!!
    Donna from the Clayton Book Club

  • http://www.bookinwithsunny.com Sunny Solomon

    Thanks for the neat post, Donna. Maybe that gar­goyle is also there to protect the bridge itself.

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