Last year, I spoke with artist Gris Grimly about Cannibal Flesh Riot!, the 30-minute buddy comedy he wrote and directed in which two grave-robbing cannibals wax philosophical on eating human flesh. For his latest project, Grimly has switched gears and gone in a completely different direction.
In Sipping Spiders Through a Straw: Campfire Songs for Monsters, lyricist Kelly DiPucchio and illustrator Gris Grimly put a macabre spin on sing-along classics like “Home on the Range” and “The Farmer in the Dell.”
Maybe macabre might be a bit strong for describing a book from the same company that gave us The Babysitters Club, but Grimly’s illustrations provide the relatively harmless song parodies with a visual backdrop that is actually less of a departure for the artist than some parents might wish.
After a closer look, however, those same parents will find that Sipping Spiders Through a Straw has a distinction that most song books do not have as it offers a wonderfully odd world of monsters and music for the reader to escape to.
The majority of the lyrics are about as harmless as the original tunes they parody. As with most of the songs in the book, DiPucchio’s “A-Camping We Will Go” (sung to the tune of “The Farmer in the Dale”) doesn’t exactly push the envelope.
But it isn’t the lyrical content that makes the songs work so much as the context that Grimly’s unique artwork places them in. By creating a refreshingly imaginative monster world, Grimly has effectively given these songs a fitting place to belong to. In the world depicted throughout the pages of Sipping Spiders, it undoubtedly makes sense to a child that even monsters have campfire songs. The fact that a child will probably make more sense of this book than anybody is what allows it to maintain a sense of innocence despite some pretty grotesque images.
Of course, the same parents who boycott Harry Potter for being a master of satanic rituals and black magic might find some of the material in the book objectionable.
Take the update of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” entitled “Creepy, Creepy Little Jar.” While the lyrics describing the jar’s contents “like a pickled, shriveled guy” are fairly graphic, actually seeing Grimly’s illustration of a fetus floating in a glass jar might be considered shocking under normal circumstances. The circumstances, however, are being dictated by the artist and, in Grimly’s world, a fetus in a jar is just one of the many things on display that draw the reader into a world unlike anything they’ve ever seen at such a young age. Now, as the generation who grew up sneaking to their friend’s house to watch films like A Nightmare on Elm Street with hands over eyes are becoming parents, there might be a place for children’s books that can really open up possibilities inside a kid’s imagination just as Wes Craven, Tim Burton, and others did for their parents.
The most successful children’s books manage to transport the reader into a world unlike the one they are used to and the fact that Grimly has managed to create a different world in a song parody book with only his illustrations is a testament to his artistic ability.
It is because of Grimly’s artwork that you should not dismiss Sipping Spiders Through a Straw as a mere “Bat-mobile lost its wheels and Robin laid an egg” rehashing of songs that have grown tired long ago. Sure, there is a line that the book might cross in some eyes, but part of the fun that the horror genre offers a kid is the opportunity to discover exciting new creatures and stories that nourish the imagination. While there might be a pretty big leap to be made in saying Sipping Spiders is a gateway to horror films, think of it as something to start little Jimmy off on until he’s old enough to read Pet Sematary.