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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Janine Dawson
Bobbie could jump.
She could hop on her left leg.
And on her right leg.
But she could not do the splits!
"Never mind," said Koala.
But Bobbie minded. A lot.
--Bobbie Dazzlerby Margaret Wild, illustrated by Janine Dawson, p. 1-7
Bobbie, a red-necked wallaby (kangaroo) can jump and bounce and skip and do so many things well, but she can't do the splits, and it bothers her. Her friends all tell her not to mind, but it still upsets her, so one morning she makes up her mind that she'll be able to do it--and then she can. She has a little trouble getting back up, but after some practice, she can do the splits perfectly, and so can her friends. This is a simple, enjoyable, and quietly happy book about believing in yourself and not giving up.
Wild's (Piglet and Mama, Piglet and Papa) brief text moves the story quickly forward. The reader starts out seeing all the things that Bobbie can do, including balancing on a log, and this helps the reader appreciate Bobbie and her jumping and balancing skills before we find out that there's something she can't do. The text's animals are all native to Australia--a wallaby (Bobbie), koala, wombat, and possum--and this is interesting and enjoyable. The animals are called after their species, which will help the reader identify them.
There is a pleasing repetition and pattern in the list of the things Bobbie can do, and then in stating that she can't do the splits, that occurs three times before she succeeds in doing the splits. The reader comes to expect that repetition, and to enjoy it. The repetition is nice, though after the first set, i wanted to know a little more about Bobbie's character and emotions, wanted to see her really yearn to do the splits, to help me care along with her that she couldn't do them. A little more tension before her success may have also helped her success feel more uplifting. The rhythm and repetition of the text also changes after Bobbie succeeds in doing the splits; it felt like the text moved into a different voice. Still, it's lovely to see Bobbie succeed, as well as her friends.
It was refreshing to discover that after Bobbie succeeded in doing the splits, that wasn't the end of the story or of Bobbie's problems; Bobbie gets stuck, and needs help getting up. This adds a realistic dimension that many readers will identify with--trying to do something, finally succeeding, but needing a little help to get it right or to do it again. There's also a nice, subtle positive message in that Bobbie doesn't mind at all that she got stuck, because she knows that since she's done the splits once, she'll be able to do them again just as well. This encourages a belief in yourself. Wild also shows that, through practice, the other animals could also do the splits, subtly letting readers know that many things can be accomplished through practice, and bringing good feeling.
Dawson's (Pudding and Chips pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations are joyous and light. Some of the happiness comes from the lightness of the watercolor, some from the abundance of white space used, some from the obvious caring and kindness of the animal friends rushing to help Bobbie or touch her, and some from the happy body language and expressions of the animals, and of Bobbie, especially. The characters are drawn in a cartoon style, with cute (but not too cute) bodies outlined in thin ink lines, and ink lines that show movement. Bobbie, especially, looks happy and free in the illustrations where she's leaping about, with a huge smile on her face and her body almost looking like it's flying.
Dawson's illustrations add depth to the book, showing us added emotion, such as the great sadness Bobbie feels when she can't do the splits, and her friends' compassion for her. Body language and facial expressions are strong. Colors are also used to emphasize emotion; when Bobbie is upset that she can't do the splits, and sits with her back to the reader, the ground beneath her is all grey, and most of the tree beside and above her is also grey. After Bobbie and her friends all succeed and are having a group hug, there are more browns, yellows, and splashes of green in the setting.
Many of the colors are echoed within each illustration and throughout the book, bringing a visual symmetry, such as the brown in Bobbie being echoed in the ground below her, and lightly in her koala friend's face, ears, and stomach, and the grey of the koala being echoed in Bobbie's shadow on the ground, as well as in her legs near her feet, and lightly in her arms, and in the flowers of a bush.
Humor is added in some of the illustrations, especially where Bobbie gets stuck doing the splits, and her friends have to help her up, and where she knows she'll do the splits again perfectly (her friends all hold up signs saying "10" as if she's performing in the olympics, only one friend holds the 10 upside down, and in the series of images on that page reverses it so that the 10 is shown correctly).
The illustrations include Australian animals--all those listed in the text--as well as Australian plantlife, including bottlebrushes, eucalyptus, banksias, and kangaroo paw. The end papers also repeat the animals and plantlife, highlighting them. This helps place the story firmly in Australia, and will introduce a new setting for many readers.
The closing illustration, with everyone in a group hug, adds a feeling of warmth to the story which is not hinted at in the text, and helps the story end on an uplifting note.
A nice added touch to the book is the information included on the cover flaps; the front gives the usual summary of the book, but also names the specific Australian plant life for interested readers (which may especially appeal to teachers and parents), and the back includes a nice quote about the book from both the writer and the illustrator, which adds interest to the story. We hear why Wild wrote the book (because, through her granddaughter, she rediscovered the joy of leaping and jumping, but when her granddaughter couldn't do the splits, she wrote the story for her), and where Dawson went to see the animals to sketch from (the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia). This adds another dimension to the book, and will help make the writer and illustrator more real to the readers.
Bobbie Dazzler is an enjoyable, feel-good book about believing in yourself, not giving up, and following your dreams. The happiness in the illustrations, especially, is beautiful. Recommended.
-Added July 18, 2007
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