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 Medieval 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.