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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
written and illustrated by Melanie Watt
Kids Can Press,(July 2008)
Now, Chester, let's try this again.
A long time ago, in a faraway land, lived a ...
stinky dinosaur in need of a major breath mint!
Chester, get out from behind there!
Nope! This side looks WAY better!
CHESTER! CUT IT OUT!!!
IF YOU SAY SO...
Ladies and Gentlemen, I the GREAT CHESTERDINI, will now attempt to saw this boring drawing in half!!!
Chester... Don't do it!
--Chester's Back! by Melanie Watt, p. 11-13.
Chester the cat is back up to his antics, trying to take center stage--he's just as funny as before. I love Watt's humor and way of making her Chester really come alive. If you're looking for a good book that'll make you grin with the absurdness of it all, pick up Chester's Back!
Melanie Watt wants to tell another story about Chester. But Chester thinks it's boring; he wants the story the way he wants it, with him as the star. At first he won't appear at all, and then when he does, he skews Melanie's meanings, and tries to take over the story. Melanie says "A long time ago, in a faraway land," so Chester appears as a cave cat--who invented the wheel. When Melanie starts the story again, Chester cuts the background in half. Author and character vie for control in this funny story.
All the things I loved in Chester are here again in Chester's Back!--the humor; Chester's over-the-top self-admiration; the innovative incorporation of Chester's red-marker scrawls all over every illustration and page; the bringing a character alive in the story, as if they have a say; and the conversation between Watt and Chester. However, Chester remains my favorite Watt book. I really enjoyed Chester's Back!, but the first few pages didn't grab me in the same way that Chester did, and the ending didn't feel as funny or as satisfying. What turned me off, in part--and this is quite personal and subjective--was the cave cat, western cat, and dinosaur material. I prefer Chester as Chester.
The middle of Chesters Back! was pure Chester--all me-me-me and riotous fun. I love how Watt's text makes the story immediate, as if it's happening right now, with her trying to tell the story, and Chester resisting. It's intelligent and funny. Chester's antics will have children giggling, as they recognize their own desire to sometimes go against the rules or have attention be completely focused on them. Adults will also enjoy the humor of a character coming alive and taking over the story. Writers, librarians, and editors especially will enjoy that humor.
Watt creates tension and humor from the very first page (actually, starting from the cover), showing Watt and chester each wanting different outcomes for the book, and each vying for control over the story. This tension and humor continues as author and character fight each other throughout the book, until the end. I love it when Chester takes over, and starts writing his own text.
Watt's illustrations are innovative, playful, and incredibly creative. The way she incorporates the character's strong personality throughout every page of the book, including the cover, title page, and book flaps, makes this book stand out (just as Chester did). It is a delight to pore over.
Chester's larger-than-life personality fits the way he is illustrated; he is a very large, wide cat. He often takes up a large amount of the page, and his colors are more vivid, bringing the focus to him.
Watt creates a distinction between the "background" and Chester and his antics, by having the background appear like a watercolor-painted, faded backdrop, and Chester, his marker, and his doodles appear bright and vivid, on top. This adds to the feeling Watt has so skillfully set up that Chester is real and alive within the story.
I love all the creative ways Watt has Chester rebel--writing his own text and dialogue, drawing doodles on her pictures, hiding behind her illustrations, and cutting up her illustration. And I love how Watt has Chester try to supplant her (thus bringing attention to her) even on the cover "NOT a Melanie Watt book." The humor tickles me just right.
Chester's writing, doodles, etc are all immediately visible and differentiated from Watt's voice/text; Chester's text is red, in a child-like font, and Watt's drawn him with a red marker on every page, adding to the visual effect and the reader belief that Chester really is scribbling on the pages.
I think Watt is brilliant; her unique method of mixing text, illustration, and making them come alive are a joy.
If you haven't read Chester yet, pick it up, then follow it with Chester's Back. You'll be in for a lot of fun.
-Added July 07, 2008
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