Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Disappearing Desmond by Anna Alter; Henry in Love by Peter McCarty; Willow's Whispers by Lana Button, illustrated by Tania Howells

I'm looking at three books today, all dealing with young characters who are very shy in school. First, I'm looking at Disappearing Desmond.

Desmond if the ultimate camouflage expert. He disappears everywhere, outside and inside. It's a family trait - both his parents and his baby sibling are skilled at vanishing also. Desmond is especially good at hiding during school. Until a new student arrives one day. She's the complete opposite of Desmond and she loves to be noticed. Not only does she like to be in the spotlight, she sees Desmond - everywhere! He's met the first person he can't hide from. Gradually they become friends and then Desmond arrives at school feeling very different; "He couldn't remember why he ever wanted to disappear in the first place." His family also comes out of hiding and Desmond passes on the gift of his new friend by finding another student hiding and inviting him to join their game.

The art in this story is beautiful. If you want a detailed look, check out the author's blog posts on her artistic process.

I'm sort of torn on this story. On the one hand, the art is beautiful and it's a lovely story of friendship and kindness. On the other hand...personally, I get really angry at the consistent message in children's books that there's something wrong with being shy, quiet, and/or introverted. Desmond's skill at disappearing is applauded, but ultimately he becomes much happier when he conforms to the behavior of the children around him, especially extrovert Gloria, and becomes just like everyone else. Obviously, if you don't like to "join in" there is something wrong with you and you need to change. Being a loner and an observer is a negative trait. Being part of the group and a leader is a positive, as we see when Desmond not only changes, but starts pulling other children in. Ok, ok, maybe I'm taking this all too seriously/personally and I'm sure the author had no idea anybody was going to find this in her book! But to me that's a painful message to give any shy child - that there's something wrong with you (and in Desmond's case with his whole family) and you need a social extrovert to save you from your lonely and unhappy existence.

Verdict: The art is beautiful and most people are going to love this story. I was really unhappy with it for the reasons stated above, but frankly I'm really weird and most parents and children will love this story. And it is a nice friendship tale.

ISBN: 9780375866845; Published August 2010 by Knopf; Borrowed from the library

Our next shy student story is Willow's Whispers. Willow is so quiet nobody ever listens to her. She wishes she could speak up...but her words just don't come out loud enough! She'd like to join in with the other children and tell people what she thinks, but when they can't hear her whispers, they ignore her and think she's unfriendly. Willow decides to find a way to make her whispers louder, so everyone can hear her! With a little creativity and some rummaging in the recycling bin, she creates a "magic microphone". Now Willow can tell the other kids she does want to be friends, stand up to an aggressive little girl, get a turn in the line, and pick her own juice. But then her microphone gets crunched. Can Willow speak up on her own? Yes she can!
While this story is also dealing with a very shy child who's being overlooked, it's quite different from Desmond in several ways. First, Willow has specific reasons she wants to be able to speak up - she's getting overlooked and she wants to stand up for herself. She's not simply a quiet child who enjoys observing, her shyness is causing problems. Secondly, she solves her problem all by herself. Her dad is supportive, but Willow doesn't need an extrovert to bring her out of her shell - she just needs a little creativity and some practice in speaking up for herself.

Verdict: Recommended this is a practical and fun book for children who need to speak up for themselves without having to change their personalities to suit extrovert social standards. I enjoyed the minimalist illustrations and I would hand this book to any child who has this problem - and those who don't.

ISBN: 9781554532803; Published February 2010 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils

This third story is quite a bit different. Henry starts the day like any other day, although he gets a blueberry muffin for school, which is rather special. On the way to school, he and his brother and friend meet a football player. They stop to throw a ball around and the football player says he has a sister Henry's age - who's fast like him. Henry has a bit of a crush on this girl, named Chloe. With their friends egging them on, Henry and Chloe both show off on the playground and end up in a game of tag. Back in the classroom, their desks get rearranged and Henry and Chloe are next to each other. Henry gives Chloe his blueberry muffin.
Um...I can't remember why I put this story in with the other two, except that McCarty's illustrations always feel "quiet" to me, maybe because there's so much space behind the characters. This is a beautiful and simple story, with lovely illustrations. I like the way flowers bloom around Chloe when Henry looks at her. But I have to say the muffins are a bit for my taste. Anyways, I guess you could say this fits in because Henry and Chloe never say they like each other - but they know exactly how to show it.

Verdict: This is a sweet and beautifully illustrated story, but I don't feel a strong audience for it. This would probably be one for the quieter children to enjoy on their own in a corner.

ISBN: 9780061142888; Published December 2009 by Balzer + Bray; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library


Ms. Yingling said...

You've done an awesome job with picture books, even though I have missed your brief forays into middle grade fiction. You may have found your niche! The quantity of books read and the brief reviews would be so helpful to librarians everywhere!

Jennifer said...

Oh, just wait until next year - I'm going back to a variety pack, heavy on middle grade fiction and graphic novels. I'm feeling a little exhausted with picture books right now!