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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
The Pink Refrigerator
The Pink Refrigerator
by Tim Egan
Houghton Mifflin,(April 2007)
DODSWORTH LOVED TO DO NOTHING. Now, this isn't to say that he never did anything, because he did. But his motto was basically "Try to do as little as possible."
True, he did get up early each morning and ride to the junkyard. He'd find things that were still useful, like picture frames and dishes, and he'd bring them to his little thrift shop and he'd dust them off and put them on the shelves.
He never sold much, but a little more than enough to get by.
--The Pink Refrigerator by Tim Egan, p. 1-3.
In a society where people increasingly escape their lives through TV and remotely connect with others through the internet, without really exploring the world, using their senses, or depending on their own creativity, The Pink Refrigerator is refreshing. Dodsworth, the owner of a small thrift shop, likes lounging around, doing nothing—aside from his brief trips to the junk yard where he finds things for his shop. But one day he finds a pink refrigerator that has a simple note on it: "Make pictures." When he opens the refrigerator, he finds it full of paints, brushes, and a sketchbook. His first instinct is to sell them in his shop. But then he finds himself painting—and enjoying it. The next day when he goes back, the note says: "Read more," and inside there are books. And so it goes, with the fridge encouraging Dodsworth to play music, cook, garden, and explore the world. Dodsworth moves from doing very little of anything and having a dull life, to exploring creative outlets, having a sense of wonder about the world, and exploring the world. This book encourages readers to explore their own creativity, and to directly interact with the world, not just passively watch it through TV, movies, or being online.
Egan's text is immediately engaging. The voice of the narrator is familiar, as if talking directly to the reader ("Now, this isn't to say"), and its colloquial tone, with modern-speak woven in ("just for the heck of it," "whaddya know") is not overdone; it all works to create a friendly, conversational tone and a great feeling of stepping into a story. It encourages the reader to stay for a while.
Egan quickly establishes Dodsworth's routine for the reader, detailing what he does each day (gets junk for his shop, watches TV, eats cheese, naps, eats, closes his shop, watches more TV, then falls asleep), and this sets up the story before the great change occurs—showing the reader just how much Dodsworth really changes, and how dull his life is before the refrigerator starts encouraging him to make some changes.
Dodsworth is a real character, not wanting to do anything at all, aside from collecting junk and selling it in his shop, and when the fridge offers him free supplies to help him be creative, it's believable that his first inclination is to sell the supplies. But when something inside him stops him, and instead he explores his creativity, Dodsworth becomes a very interesting character, and one who visibly grows and changes throughout the book. By the third time something appears in the fridge, he doesn't even think about putting it in his shop to sell—and by the end of the book, he doesn't want to watch his favourite TV show, but instead decides to explore the world. Dogs worth goes through a great amount of change, and this encourages the reader to root for him, and to hope that discovers the magic that the fridge has to show him.
Egan's use of details help the story to come alive and make it more believable, such as the fridge being pink and rusty with a shiny brass globe magnet on the front, and that the trumpet is shiny and brass. At other times I wanted more detail, most especially in the scenes where Dodsworth was creative—many of those scenes felt almost like summaries. We're told that Dodsworth reads classic books, but not which ones, and we're told he cooked all day, but not what.
Though I enjoy Dodsworth and his reactions very much, I thought there could be a little less telling of what he's feeling. For instance, "Disappointed, he slammed the door," would have read better for me without being told that he was disappointed.
Dodsworth's creative journey is an uplifting one; I felt glad at how much he changed and that he opened up to creativity and got out of his rut. I would have liked just a little more wrap up to give me a satisfied feeling in the ending, but that's just me.
Egan's illustrations are detailed yet simple, with an almost flat feeling to the muted colors. The palette is a little dull, with muted colors, and a lot of browns, greys, dull blues and greens. This palette perfectly fits Dodsworth's life at the beginning and even middle of the book, but the palette remains the same throughout. I would have liked to see some bursts of color as Dodsworth discovered his creativity. Even the pink fridge doesn't seem to to particularly stand out, and the color of the fridge is echoed, in various hues, in different objects such as boards, houses, and furniture.
There is regular variation in the layout of the illustrations. Many spreads have a single square drawing per page enclosed in a think ink border, with the white of the page adding to the border. Other illustrations are a full spread with borders, and still others are borderless, and do not have backgrounds—just the character and the main objects he is interacting with. Occasionally there are 2 or 3 small images per page. This helps bring some visual interest.
The illustrations have a lot of detail—there are a great many objects in each illustration. For some readers that will provide visual interest, and for others that may bring a feeling of clutter. Despite the clutter, many of the objects are not that informative; for me, at least, the objects in Dodsworth's house don't quite seem to fit his character—they seem more about appearances or a stuffy, someone outdated way of life than Dodsworth appears to be. Yet Dodsworth's hat—shown in every illustration—seems to perfectly fit his character, as does his brown jacket.
Overall, the illustrations feel a little dreary, almost dull, and not quite in keeping with the story—yet the book itself remains a charming, encouraging story, particularly because of the sense of magic that the pink refrigerator creates through the notes and the supplies it offers Dodsworth, giving him things that he didn't even know he needed, and encouraging him to truly live and to be creative. There is even a sense of magic in the last, final note that encouraged Dodsworth to stretch himself on his own (now that he'd developed his creative muscles) and in the note blowing away, the magnet falling down—bringing a sense that the refrigerator has done what it needed to do for Dodsworth, and that now it may do the same for someone else.
There's a nice design touch that the inner copyright page is pink, like the refrigerator (though I think it would have been even more fitting to have the end papers be the same color.)
This is an encouraging, uplifting book that will remind readers that they have choices, that they can discover new talents, explore creativity, and get out of any ruts or forced routines they may have. Need something to remind you that you can be creative, or that you don't have to just follow your old routine? Pick this book up. Recommended!
-Added April 2007
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