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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Estelle Takes a Bath
Estelle Takes a Bath
by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma
Henry Holt,(October 2006)
This is Estelle, of Toadburger Grove,
sipping green tea in her tub by the stove,
ignoring a blizzard, forgetting her troubles,
sunk to her chinny in peppermint bubbles.
This is the shivering, snow-dusted mouse,
who squeezed himself into Estelle's little house.
The candlelit kitchen was pleasantly cozy.
The mouse was relieved (and entirely too nosy).
--Estelle Takes a Bath by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Mary Newell DePalma, p. 2-3.
Estelle is taking a peppermint bubble bath when a mouse sneaks in out of a blizzard, follows the delicious scent of peppermint, and touches noses with Estelle. Both Estelle and the mouse are frightened. Estelle leaps out of the bath after the mouse, and the chase ensues, until finally the mouse falls into the tub and is about to drown--and Estelle discovers that she can't let the mouse die, so she rescues him. This is a silly, funny book with a kind-hearted ending.
Esbaum's (Stink Soup, Ste-e-e-e-eamboat a-Comin'!) text is written in lively, conversational rhyme. The rhymes work, usually scanning well, bringing a pleasing rhythm, and always making sense. They're also often amusing. Most spreads feature four lines of rhyme, while some stretch it out with two. The brief text, for the most part, pulls the story forward; readers will want to turn to pages to find out how Estelle reacted and what happened to the mouse. The text slows down after Estelle and the mouse scare each other, perhaps in part because some of the things Estelle does don't seem to move the plot forward (her heels stomping) and because some of the chase is not very specific (there was bumping and thumping). The story text quickens again when the chase gets more specific, the mouse gets emotional, and then reaches the crisis point where the mouse slips and falls.
Estelle's character is hinted at early in the text by some of the things she likes (green tea, peppermint bubble bath, candlelit kitchen), then through her screaming at the sight of the mouse, and chasing him, and then through her warm hearted acceptance of him, and saving him. Estelle changes (lightly) throughout the story, moving from being afraid of the mouse, to anger and wanting him out, to saving him and actually liking the mouse.
The focus quickly moves from Estelle to the mouse, and this, plus the mouse's situation (escaping the blizzard, being chased by someone much larger than him) as well as some carefully chosen words to describe the mouse (relieved, innocent visitor, snuffle, kisser) and some interior mouse dialogue ("his life flashed before him; he called for his mother"), help the reader to feel sympathy for the mouse, and hope it will all work out in the end. Esbaum doesn't disappoint; she leaves the mouse safe with Estelle.
One thing I did not like was that Estelle's body (from the viewpoint of the mouse) was described as "heart-stopping, nightmarish stuff:/a volcano of suds and Estelle . . . in the buff"). I know this is meant to increase the humor, but because Estelle is illustrated as having some weight to her, this is a sensitive area for many women and girls. Still, Estelle is portrayed as a kind character, and this helps.
Visually, some text is given greater weight through added color and through being a different font (such as "squeezed," "buff," and "slid-slid,"), as well as occasionally visually adding to those words to make them replicate what they say they do ("squeezed" moves from larger letters on both ends to much smaller in the middle, making it indeed look like it's being squeezed, and "slip-slid" takes a gentle downward curve from the line of text, as if it really has slid). This visually creative placing of some of the text adds to the fun and is not overdone (except in one spread).
DePalma's (The Squeaky Door, My Chair)acrylic-and-mixed-media illustrations are beautiful, light, and airy. They greatly add to the humor, and to individualizing Estelle and the mouse (Estelle has bright pink and red striped boots, rosebud slippers, a flowered bathrobe, and wears a shower cap over her hair. Her body is not skinny, which is refreshing to see. The mouse is made cute through a small, round, pink nose, big eyes, little pink 'hands' and feet, and humanized body language.). Colors are happy and bright, completely fitting the emotional tone of the text, and they bring a feeling of cheer. Aesthetically pleasing color combinations are created, such as through a pale green stove, pastel pink and white striped towel, turquoise bath, yellow and green wall.
Illustrations vary from full spread that bleed right to the edges, to illustrations that bleed right to the edges on some sides and have great white space on others, to multiple smaller images that depict a sequence of events or that are part of the same scene. This brings a nice visual variation to the book. The opening and closing illustrations are the only full spread illustrations that bleed to the edges of all sides of the page, and this brings a visual sense of having come full circle.
DePalma creatively uses various objects and Estelle's own arms and legs to hide Estelle's private areas from the reader, using water, bubbles from the suds, a crossword puzzle, the stove and a pot, soot, and the tub itself. Estelle's bum is shown once, as she leaps toward the tub. This makes for some funny illustrations, including some of the contortions Estelle's body gets into to hide from the reader, and is part of the fun of the book.
DePalma makes good use of shadow and light, and that plus perspective helps bring a feeling of depth to the illustrations. There's a pleasing texture that appears especially in fabric (Estelle's bathrobe and towel), in the mouse, in brick, and in the floor, some of which is achieved through the texture of the paper showing through. The great feeling of lightness is increased through the light colors, the frequent use of white (for bubbles, water, Estelle's shower cap, the rim and inside of the tub, the tea kettle, and more), the frequent use and amount of white space in the background, and the the light colors.
DePalma echoes colors in various objects within each illustration, and throughout the whole book, visually pulling the book together. For instance, in the opening illustration, the blue of the tub is echoed in the inside of Estelle's slipper, and the stripes on the cat bed, and more faintly in a glass jar, in the shadows on the floor, and the green of the stove is echoed in the kettle, the cat bed, Estelle's robe, a decoration on Estelle's slipper, and the frog pattern on the wallpaper.
Humor is added into the illustrations through the frog wallpaper pattern (tying in with Estelle's street, Toadburger Grove), the mouse climbing up Estelle's bathrobe like a mountain climber, a semi-naked Estelle leaping around the room, and the visual chaos that ensues as Estelle tries to shoo the mouse away. DePalma also adds an extra character, a cat, who appears in some of the illustrations (in the opening, sleeping, and then wide awake joining in on the chase, and going away with flattened, disgruntled ears when Estelle keeps the mouse).
Setting details make Estelle's little house feel warm, cozy, individual, and real, including a cat bed, cat food dish on the floor titled 'Fluffie', pink candles, a pair of funky rinestone orange, purple, and red glasses, a recipe box spilling out recipes, purple stockings draped over furniture, a tea kettle with roses on it, and much more. The illustrations are perfectly paired with the text.
Two bonus illustrations, both found in the book's front matter, add to the story: in the first, Estelle is out in the blizzard dressed in snow clothes, holding a shovel, piles of snow around her (having just shoveled), and wearing her pink-and-red striped boots, and in the next illustration, the mouse is seen climbing onto Estelle's windowsill, over a pile of snow, the blizzard all around him as he wipes a small circle clear on the windowpane to look into the lit, warm room.
This is a funny, light book with a good message--to accept and care for others. Enjoyable. Recommended.
-Added June 5, 2007
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