Cheese Louise!

by David Michael Slater

illustrated by Steve Cowden

Published by Whitecap Books

32 pages, 1999

Buy it online







Say, "Cheese!"

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


After years of being underwhelmed by computer graphics -- I didn't even like Toy Story -- I wasn't really prepared for Cheese Louise! by David Michael Slater and illustrated by Steve Cowden. The cover image of a smiling piece of Swiss cheese is a hint at what will come. Close inspection confirmed what I suspected: the illustrations in Cheese Louise! are entirely computer-generated. Here's the catch, though: they're good. And not just OK good. Cheese Louise! represents the very finest of this latest generation of computer-aided illustration. Cowden is a journeyman, and it shows in his work.

As any well read 5-year-old will tell you, however, illustrations alone do not a picture book make. There must be a story, as well. And Cheese Louise! has a story that seems to be as well-conceived as the illustrations that bring it to colorful life. The star, of course, is a piece of Swiss cheese named Louise. She awakens to find herself in a refrigerator surrounded by mostly friendly and entirely delusional foodstuffs. All of them are waiting, they tell the apprehensive cheese, for the day when -- nirvana! -- they will be chosen.

"Yeah, so we don't go to waste," added Seymour Carrot. "There's nothing worse than getting moldy! So try to look your best when the lights come on."

Of course, what happens to the food after it's chosen is never discussed. You could, if you were of a philosophical nature and wanted to party with ideas, try to think of human parallels to the foody dilemmas. Where do we go after we leave the safety of our known world? Where did we come from? At least Louise has the relative comfort of the memory of the supermarket and, before that, the "factory." I'm quite sure, however, that when he penned Cheese Louise! Slater had none of this in mind. Rather it's a charming story intended to entertain and delight. It manages to do both with aplomb. In fact, to my mind, it does so rather more efficiently than many stories in this familiar 32-page picture book format, simply because it has more words. With an average of about 100 words in each interestingly set block of text, there's more story with which to plot than there is in a book where each illustration is simply ornamented with a trite little stanza. Thus we have the time to meet a couple of the more interesting characters, including a crotchety carrot, a devious cat named Kit who is always trying to sneak into the refrigerator and grab any unsuspecting morsel (though why the vegetables are so frightened of the cat is never explained. Perhaps it's a vegan feline?) and the leader, an ancient box of baking soda:

"Some say she's as old as the refrigerator, but no one knows for sure."

Interestingly and charmingly, the typography on the box of baking soda is strikingly 1970s. It's this sort of attention to detail that makes Cheese Louise! such a satisfying little book. Really, how many 4-year-olds are likely to notice the design on a box of baking soda? Yet, at some level, even if you don't know the first thing about design or typography, you read that image as being old and -- if you happened to live in an icebox -- venerated.

This is both Slater and Cowden's first foray into children's books. Judging by this cheesy and breezy first attempt, I have a hunch it won't be their last. | December 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of the Madeline Carter novels: Mad Money, The Next Ex and Calculated Loss.