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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Another Perfect Day
Another Perfect Day
written and illustrated by Ross MacDonald
Roaring Brook Press (reprint),(September 2005)
The morning sun came streaming through Jack's bedroom window.
He got up and looked out . . . Aaaaahh! Another perfect day! . . . got dressed . . .
ate breakfast . . . brushed his teeth . . . exercised . . . and went out.
--Another Perfect Day Ross MacDonald, p. 1-7.
Everything is going perfectly for Jack, our muscular hero, who, dressed in a conservative business suit, does superhuman acts such as leaping from building to building, catching a runaway train, wrestling with an alligator, and then goes to his fun day job, being an ice cream taste tester--until suddenly it isn't a perfect day any more. Our hero suddenly finds himself dressed in a pink tutu, a baby bonnet, and red clown boots, and baby rattle in his hand. Things just keep on getting worse, with his rocket turning into a bicycle, and the police and a crowd running after him. Even after he realizes he's caught in a dream he can't escape until Jack, as a boy, helps him wake up. This super-hero tale is a fun, engaging flight of fancy, as well as a subtle way of reminding readers that they can break out of a bad dream if they need to.
The brief, deceptively simple, carefully-chosen text feels is the perfect length for the book, with nothing extraneous and nothing bogging the story down. The text uses a straight-man approach that allows the illustrations to tell the story with great humor, and to tell a different story than the text itself, and this works well. The text and illustrations build on the other; neither work as well on their own.
The text balloons, in combination with the illustrations, add some humor when things start to go wrong for Jack, and this humor helps keep the story light, with good feeling. The text balloons also add dialogue and a retro, innocent flavor (the hero says "Huh?" and "Oh my!" when things start to go wrong). MacDonald has a great sense of pacing, and keeps the interest building and pages turning by inserting deliberate pauses using ellipses and page breaks at key moments and places where the reader will want to know what happens next.
The illustrations have a retro feel, like 1940s comics, with a yellow wash over the illustrations as if they're printed on old paper. The illustrations are all borderless, with soft edges. Dark ink lines outline the characters and objects, as comics often do. The illustrations use some common comic conventions--word balloons, sound effects written in type, lines to show movement and action, and stars to show pain. Super hero fans will see hints of Clark Kent/Superman without his glasses and the Atom, through the muscular man dressed in a blue suit who can leap tall buildings, hold a locomotive in his hands and save it from derailing, and who is so small he can dive into a bowl of cereal.
The illustrations appear one or two per page, with the occasional full spread, and Jack almost always stands out clearly in the foreground, though there are a few times that he almost gets lost or eclipsed by the size or color of other things. Background details are often hinted at with a few pen strokes or not added in at all. Many faces have simple dots for eyes, and bodies of people in the crowds are bulky and boxy. The only face with eyes that are not dots is Jack the hero; his face looks more real and fully drawn. At times Jack the boy looks a bit too cute or simple (at least for me) with the big dots for his eyes.
Throughout the story there is a gradual transformation from Jack the hero--a muscular super-powered man who, in the opening illustrations is wearing red-striped pajamas--to a young boy wearing the same pajamas who begins to appear in most scenes watching the hero, to Jack the boy saving the day and then waking up in his own bed wearing his pajamas. Most readers will understand by the end of the story that Jack the hero was Jack the boy all along. Readers may want to read the story over again right away because of this surprise twist. Observant readers will notice many of the objects that Jack the hero interacted with are in Jack's bedroom when he wakes up (but as toys): the train, the alligator, the cannon, the buildings, the plane--even the hero himself.
The closing wordless illustration of Jack the boy running off into the yard with his toy plane helps wrap up the story and give it that extra beat.
Another Perfect Day gently reminds readers that they have some control over their lives or fears. Although the hero is a muscular, super powered man, he cannot escape the dream on his own. It's the young boy who saves the day, helping young readers feel that the power to escape from nightmares is truly in their own hands.
This is a fun adventure of a boy dreaming himself a superhero yet saving the day as himself. Enjoyable, uplifting, and full of fantasy. Recommended.
-Added May 2007
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