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The Giant Jam Sandwich | pictures and story by John Vernon Lord • verses by Janet Burroway

Updated: Mar 9, 2021

The Giant Jam Sandwich scratches many an itch for a classic, fantastical and outrageous tale, where the very base premise of the story is enough to captivate us: a town of villagers must make an enormous jam sandwich to trap 4 million wasps that have descended on them. It sits in the same company as other well-loved, eccentric stories: the poems in Where the Sidewalk Ends, Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory come to mind. These all share a similar flavor of outlandish, bizarre and unpredictable adventure with peculiar characters nonchalantly keeping the story moving.

I love these villages like in Stone Soup where the community comes together seamlessly to solve a problem, sharing the same mindset and values. In this book, the village of Itching Down seems to be a content bunch, unified in lifestyle and tastes. They appear to live harmoniously while all maintaining and celebrating their individuality. All quirkiness is accepted here, as one can see in the below spread (filled with early 70's flair).

Once they have decided unanimously that the best way to catch wasps is with strawberry jam, the logistics then steer the story into several joyful pages of giant baking logistics. My favorite of these is where they slice the bread with a giant saw on top of 3-story scaffolding. Especially because this was the moment when I recognized the extra silliness and commitment in baking an entire loaf to execute one singular sandwich.

But it looks like in the end, they celebrate this swift, seemingly simple task of ridding the pests with a big party where they all enjoy the giant bread leftovers. It's a treat to canvass the clothes drawn in this scene and the odd choices made. For example, the baker wearing Chuck Taylors next to the distinguished, waltzing man in a late-Victorian tailcoat. The bell-sleeved, muumuu dress next to the formal hoop skirt gown. It all works together in the expressiveness of Vernon Lord's sketchy, wiry style, and makes this book all the more unique.

I appreciate, too, the intentional balance of areas colored with watercolor and scratchy colored pencil lines, mixed with areas left untouched in black and white. The woman above with the fiery, frizzy hair and just her legs colored is quite random, but also gives your eye a place to rest before meandering through the rest of the party.

This is, of course, a wacky, lighthearted story, but it strikes me on a deeper level reading it now in the wake of the pandemic, the recent winter natural disasters and our continued battle for equality. With all of these situations affecting our immediate communities around us, it's hard not to read this with a little bit of longing to solve problems with such ease. It's an escape into an exemplary life where there is openness to ideas, all voices are heard and immediate collaboration ensues with unquestioned support. Now that this book is back in print as of 2012, I plan to read it and gift it to many to spread the spirit of working together and celebrating the freedom that can bring.

Other children's titles by John Vernon Lord:


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