The Terrifying Building in Eyeville is a thoughtfully written and wonderfully illustrated children’s storybook app.
This is a very personal storybook developed by Joel Grondrup as his daughter was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina.
The Terrifying Building in Eyeville is an allegory for this cancer as a small man named Kanser arrives in Eyetown after falling off the back of a truck during a rain storm. He knocks on the door of Mr. Nice and asks if he can start building onto Mr. Nice’s home as he is a traveling builder who looks for houses to build onto.
Mr. Nice allows Kanser into his home where Kanser takes over building, spreading his strange project throughout the house, building upwards and outwards, affecting the entire community until Eyeville has to be removed to protect the entire country – a sad loss for all, but tolerable as another Eyeville, a town exactly like the first, can now be called home.
I can’t say enough about how impressive this story is. The illustrations are wonderful, quirky and stylized. The included narration is excellent, clear and easy to listen to, and the character of Mr. Nice is well developed.
The storyline of this tale is well thought out, with a beginning, middle and end which may seem obvious, yet my experience with other children’s stories is that not all writers have a handle on a dramatic structure, so when so very well done, it is worth pointing out.
I praise Grondrup’s ability to create the character of Kanser who is definitely ominous and foreboding – possibly more so for adults and older children who can see the ties to cancer, but without being overwhelming for young children.
The sadness of the devastation of cancer is also touched upon here with wonderful grace, again never maudlin or overly upsetting, yet quite moving in this town’s sad acceptance of their loss of Eyetown.
The layers of metaphor are very well incorporated without being over the top, such as the hero of this story being President Sharp, who organizes the removal of Eyeville for the good of the country when Kanser tried to build down the road, representing to me the spread of cancer to the ocular nerve, and surgical cure – that being the removal of the eyeball.
I have great ambivalence in critiquing this personal and in most regards is perfectly realized storybook, especially as this tale is not explicitly to be looked at as the perfect allegory for this disease. It gives me pause, However that Mr. Nice allows Kanser into his home, wanting in some way to help Kanser, as this allows the building to begin – even though express permission is never granted.
I actually find it quite captivating and a little sad how things became out of control after Mr. Nice takes a blind eye to Kanser’s antics – an excellent metaphor for finding a concerning lump or unusual bruising and making the assumption that it will just stop on its own, as failing to act on signs of possible cancer is not desirable.
I do wonder, however, if there are unintended messages about “nice” people or kids getting cancer because Mr. Nice does not stop Kanser, as he hated to say “No” and make people feel sad.
In some ways, I appreciate this moment as parents need to be advocates for their families even if this makes them not “nice” to some doctors when asking for a second opinion or when asking for their concerns to be heard when they have a feeling that their child is sicker than doctors have been able to determine.
Having said this, I do hope children will not internalize the moment Kanser is allowed in – a moment that is nicely touched upon when Mr. Nice, feeling guilty for allowing Kanser into his home, is calmed by President Sharp, who explains that Kanser will build wherever he goes and can’t be stopped. For many, this will negate my concern, possibly making this app a great tool for discussing the complex emotions that Mr. Nice feels that others may face during diagnosis and treatment as well.
I do, however, wonder about how Kanser moves into this town, as he travels to Eyeville on the back of a truck during a rainy night. This truck is “barreling” down the dark, slippery road and hits an old oak branch that had fallen into the street, swerving and dropping Kanser from a biohazard-marked box on the back of the truck.
I can’t help but wonder if Kanser would have bypassed this town if the truck had not been traveling at a more reasonable speed in bad weather, and if this detail to a link of cancer being triggered by a faulty gene or environmental cause – or possibly just a clever, cinematic way to introduce Kanser into this story.
I enjoy the fact that there is so much to think about in this multi-layered story and recommend this app for any family whether or not their family has been touched by cancer.
The message that stands out to me is that decisive action is necessary in the face of cancer, wonderfully expressed in this app. There are many ways to interpret this story, and I am sure different readers will enjoy it on many levels.
This app allows one to read, listen or follow along with text while also listening to included stellar narration. The pages of this book, when not in reading mode, turn themselves as if on Auto Play, which works well. I would also have liked a way to pause the page turns if needed as well as a menu of pages, especially as this story has a nice length to it, and it would be helpful to pick up from where one stops if necessary.
Even with these notes, The Terrifying Building in Eyeville is a memorable, beautifully crafted application that adults will enjoy, possibly on a different level from their children.