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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me
There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me
by Alice Walker, illustrated by Stefano Vitale
There is a flower/At the tip/Of my nose/Smelling/Me.
There is a sky/At the end/Of my/Eye/Seeing/Me.
Theer is a road/At the bottom/Of my/Foot/Walking me.
--There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker, illustrated by Stefano Vitale, p. 2-6.
Are we alone in the world, or is the world alive and present all around us? There Is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me suggests that the reader is connected with everyone and everything—that everything around the reader influences them and interacts with them—a concept which some readers will find soothing. Walker (The Color Purple, We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For) uses poetry and a profound turning-ideas-on-their-head to open readers to changing how they see the world. This is not so much a story as a beautiful, thoughtful poem on life and the world around us, and an episodic list of examples of the way the world can interact with us. Literal-minded readers may have trouble diving into the poem, but fantasy lovers, readers who enjoy mindfulness or meditation, and readers with open minds will have no problem.
The text has a kind of magic to it, a thinking-outside-the-box freedom, opening the reader's mind to possibilities they may not have seen before. Walker's text sings, and feels joyful and full of life. Each complete thought appears on its own spread, the words arranged like a miniature poem.
The book starts out turning ideas upside down, and continues in the same vein throughout the book (it is the flower smelling the narrator, not the narrator smelling the flower), and this idea is both surprising and pleasing. The text moves from concrete aspects of the world (such as a flower, sky, road, dog) interacting with the narrator into more abstract concepts (such as a song, dance, and poem) interacting with the narrator. This movement leads the character from the external to the internal, and may help to gently lead readers into the rhythm of both the text and the ideas.
The text is written in first person, and the narrator is nameless (referred to as "me,") which helps increase reader identification and make the reader think that the story can be about them. The narrator is joyfully open to the world around her, and it is clear that the world nurtures and helps her. Positive messages are given both subtly and overtly—subtly by suggesting that the narrator and reader are not alone and are seen, even if they feel alone or invisible, through "There is a sky/At the end/Of my/Eye/Seeing/Me", and overtly by telling the reader that they are beautiful the way they are "There is a sunrise/At the edge/Of/My skin/Praising Me." This positive feeling is added to and built on in the last few spreads, with the soothing word choices ("There is a poem in the cradle of my soul rocking me" and "There is a pen nestled in my hand").
Walker includes a paragraph at the back of the book that lets readers know she wrote this as a thank you note; she felt gratitude and joy at being a part of the world. That joy comes through.
Vitale's (If You Listen) vibrant, colorful acrylic illustrations add to the joyful illumination of the book. The illustrations have a surreal, magical feel to them that mirror and build on the text, perfectly matching the mood of the text. For "There is a sky at the end of my eye seeing me," the girl becomes the sky, clouds around her eyes, stars in her hair, face, and neck, her body blue like the sky, the light of the moon on one cheek, the purple of a sunset lighting the bottom of clouds and her shirt.
Each illustration is one spread, and bleeds right to the edges of the pages, bringing a sense of repetition. The texture of the page and the paintbrush come through, creating a pleasing visual effect.
Vitale uses a warm, bright palette, drawing especially on yellows, oranges, pink, and brown, with some lovely blues. The illustrations are playful and joyful, creating a sense of magic and wonder. They make good use of metaphors from the text.
The narrator is depicted as a serene young girl, and she and the things she interacts with are outlined in black lines, making the girl and the world around her stand out. There is little or no detail depicting the girl's setting—the backgrounds are often gradations of color slowly blended into each other-and this also helps the girl become the main focus of the illustrations. Although light and some shading is used, the character has a slightly flat feel to her—and yet she seems alive.
My favorite illustrations, the ones that come most alive for me and seem to most perfectly match the text are the more surreal, fantasy-like illustrations that mostly collect near the end of the book. One such illustration, "There is a song/Deep in/My body/Singing/Me," depicts the girl's torso as a guitar, with a heart-shaped hole over her chest, and five colors of the rainbow as strings, her hand reaching forward to strum the strings, music flowing out of her in both free flying musical notes, and notes and symbols along a musical five-line staff. Such illustrations add to the wonder of the ideas in the text.
The closing illustration shows the girl as a rainbow, with all the ways she just interacted with the world (and the world with her) shown in smaller images around her. This helps bring a sense of completion and a kind of summary, bringing everything previously discussed back into the story.
This is a joyful, mind-opening book that may help some readers feel less alone or more part of the world. It gently nudges the reader to open their mind, while at the same time is soothing. The book also encourages the reader to see that they are beautiful the way they are, and that they are safe in the world. Recommended!
-Added March 2007
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