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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Ella, Of Course!
Ella, Of Course!
by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by Doug Cushman
Harcourt Children's Books,(April 2007)
Ella was a problem solver. When one of Aunt Mozelle's favorite earrings fell down the drain, who do you suppose got it out with a high-heeled shoe and a wad of bubblegum?
Ella, of course.
When Ella's little brother's pet frog, Sylvio, escaped and interrupted the neighbor's Hawaiian pool party, who do you suppose got him back with the help of a spaghetti strainer and a curtain rod?
Ella, of course.
--Ella, Of Course! by Sarah Weeks, illustrated by Doug Cushman, p. 1-3.
Ella, a young problem-solver pig, LOVES her brand new umbrella and the satisfying "whoosh-click" sound it makes when she opens it. She loves it so much she takes it with her everywhere, but soon she's causing problems instead of solving them. And then she has a problem of her own that she must solve. Readers will enjoy Ella's highly creative solutions to the problems, as well as the laugh-out-loud problems that she creates by startling others with her new umbrella. Ella is a likeable character; she's innovative, intelligent, sure of herself, and doesn't hesitate to take action or try to solve a problem.
Weeks (So B. It, Ruff! Ruff! Where's Scruff?) has a good sense of pacing, tension, and of building suspense. She knows when to break up a sentence or idea and have the answer appear on the following page, and how to keep reader interest. She also makes good use of onomatopoeia; readers will delight in the "Whoosh...click!" of Ella's umbrella as much as she does, and may find the sound repeating through their heads afterwards. Weeks has a good sense of the rhythm and sound of language, and of how repetition can be used satisfyingly, if not overdone. The text includes satisfying metaphors (puffy white clouds that floated across it like fat sheep), and unique sensory-related phrases ("soggy problem, sticky problem"). Weeks also makes use of words that capture the feeling of a young, intense child ("Ella love-love-loved her new umbrella"), and a child's delight in simple things like an interesting sound.
The text uses very imaginative, specific situations and details—even down to Ella rescuing pet frog from a Hawaiian pool party with a spaghetti strainer and a curtain rod—and this adds to the fun. There is also whimsical imagery, such as an umbrella with puffy white clouds, that may appeal to some readers.
The phrase "Ella, of course" repeats throughout many pages, and when this is paired with a question, as it is in the second half of the book, it adds to the fun, and encourages interaction with the story. Young readers will delight in being able to give the answer. It's also a relief, at least for me, that that repetition is not combined with every page of text (which can get tedious or feel forced) but pops up when it makes sense. The story is not forced to fit the repeated phrase.
There is some nice tension at the climax, when Ella is faced with anxiety over her upcoming recital and her not being able to bring her umbrella, a good build-up of suspense over the solution she might come up with, enjoyment at being able to guess who people are talking about at the recital—and relief when Ella innovatively and humourously solves her own problem.
Ella, Of Course! is upbeat and funny, yet also sensitively written (through not reprimanding Ella—who the reader may identify with—at the dance practice, but instead gently and humorously reminding all the dancers that parents are welcome but umbrellas are not), and it's good to see such a strong heroine.
I would have liked to see a few more situations where Ella was so creatively solving others' problems, before hearing about how she created new problems, just to really ground us in her talents—but that's a personal preference. And there is a brief section in the text that does not seem to fit the rhythm or humorous, bouncy mood of the rest of the text, that I found slightly incongruent—but overall, the text is superbly written.
The author and illustrator who clearly trust each other AND the reader. Weeks never tells too much; she allows Cushman to show some of the story, and allows the reader to figure out some events from the illustrations, while Cushman doesn't overpower the text, but matches it and adds to it. Both use a great sense of timing to add to the suspense and thrill of the book, giving us tiny hints and peeks at the outcome. This is a fantastic collaboration by two talented people.
Cushman's (What Dads Can't Do, Where's My Tail?) rich acrylic illustrations are cheerful, brightly colored paintings using sunshine yellow, turquoise-sky blue, vivid pinks and greens, among others. It feels like you can sink into the colors. These colors are repeated throughout the book, visually pulling it all together. There is a good gradation of color and of light and shadow, which adds a feeling of depth. The illustrations are beautiful.
Most of the illustrations go right to the edges of a spread, while two are painted like cut-outs with white space around them during Ella's whoosh-clicking bumping into things or people, thus highlighting the action.
Ella is illustrated as an endearing, happy little pig—and with her sky-and-cloud umbrella, she is adorable. In the very first illustration, she is portrayed as a hero, with her aunt and brother looking adoringly on as Ella solves the problem. Various animals are depicted in the story, conveying differences and multiculturalism, and all the animals look kind and gentle. Readers will enjoy spotting the frog who appears in many of the illustrations.
The illustrations begin on the inside title page, then the copyright and acknowledgment pages, adding to the story as we see Ella and her brother finding his pet frog, then Ella blowing a bubble from bright pink bubble gum as she walks with her little brother and his pet frog. This ties in perfectly to the next page, the beginning of the story, where Ella rescues the earring with that same gum, and the frog and brother are present. This wordless intro the story can be fun to discover.
Readers will enjoy seeing the things that happen in the illustrations that aren't mentioned in the text, like the little brother dipping his trotter into his sister's birthday cake, a banana peel landing on Ella's head, and all the laugh-out-loud repercussions of Ella's umbrella. Ella's seeming obliviousness to the problems her umbrella causes and her continued raptness with her umbrella add to the humor of the story.
I wondered if Ella had to always be dressed in pink (the events did not all happen on the same day) and her brother in blue. It seemed a little sexist to me—and yet it did not detract from my enjoyment of the story. The illustrations are beautiful, and convey such happiness and humor.
Another nice touch is the turquoise end papers that almost perfectly match the bright turquoises used in the illustrations.
This is a funny, enjoyable book with a touch of silliness, and good messages subtly woven throughout. Ella is a very creative, intelligent, proactive girl pig who learns that she doesn't just have to help others or solve their problems, but can also focus on herself, do what makes her happy, and solve her own problems. This is particularly important for girls to learn.
-Added February 2007
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