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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Hip, Hip, Hooray for Annie McRae!
Hip, Hip, Hooray for Annie McRae!
by Brad Wilcox, illustrated by Julie Hansen Olson
Gibbs Smith,(August 2001)
"Howdy, Mom!" caled eight-year-old Annie McRae as she threw off her covers and jumped out of bed. "Howdy, Chestnut," she said to her stufed horse. Mom smiled from the doorway while Annie carried Chestnut to his favourite spot by the window so she could make her bed.
"I love the way you take care of your room," said Mom, and then she cheered as she always did, "Hip, hip, hooray for Annie McRae!"
That put an extra spring in Annie's step as she dressed and danced her way to the kitchen, clicking together the heels of her turquoise-blue cowboy boots every few steps.
--Hip, Hip, Hooray for Annie McRae by Brad Wilcox, illustrated by Julie Hansen Olson, p. 1-2.
Does genuine praise and positive feedback make a difference in the way a person sees themselves? And can a child who's received enough frequent and consistent praise learn to praise and encourage themselves when things seem to go wrong? In Hip, Hip, Hooray for Annie McRae, that's exactly what happens. Annie receives praise throughout her day, every day, from her parents, grandmother, and teacher, and she feels better because of it. But one day, all the adults in her life are too busy or not around at the right time, and she doesn't get the praise or attention she usually receives. At first she feels awful--but the next day, she encourages herself just the way others have always encouraged her--and she feels better. This is a strong, upbeat book about the positive effects of encouragement and praise, and the way that one can encourage and praise oneself, and feel good about oneself.
Wilcox's (Where Do Babies Come From?, Growing Up) text starts off full of energy, with lively dialogue, and this feeling continues throughout, dipping only in Annie's crisis, then regaining momentum and energy afterward. The text gives Annie great spunk, energy, and character. Strong word choices, dialogue, Annie's body language and actions (throwing off her covers, jumping out of bed), and unique, themed details that are repeated throughout the story add to Annie's character, and make her seem cheerful and larger than life: Annie's turquoise-blue cowboy boots, the way she physically responds to praise (the spring in her step, dancing her way, clicking her heels, etc.), her way of speaking like a cowboy ("Howdy" and "rip-roaring, corn-cracking day") and the way she speaks with great volume and enthusiasm, and her way of walking with enthusiasm and energy. Annie's dialogue also has a fresh feeling to it.
The writing is upbeat and rollicking, including the repeated way that Annie gets an extra spring in her step after being praised. The text makes clear connections between receiving ongoing and repeated praise and feeling good about oneself, most especially through Annie's body language that so clearly shows how much happier and confident she becomes after being praised. It also shows how it's easier for people who've regularly received praise and encouragement to learn how to give it to themselves and boost their own self-esteem. I love this about the book. However, the beginning section, especially, may be offputting for some readers, since Annie receives praise only for doing chores or helpful things around the house. This aspect felt to me like a sneaky adult way to try to get kids to want to do their chores; I didn't like it. But it wasn't enough to stop me reading.
Annie's positivity is clear from the beginning; she assumes it's going to be a wonderful day, and she greets everyone cheerfully, expecting good things. The reader also sees Annie receive praise and encouragement throughout her day from everyone she interacts with--parents, grandparent, and teacher--and sees the effects of having such constant praise, that it obviously contributes to Annie's positivity. While I enjoyed the amount of positive response that Annie received, and while repetition can be pleasing, it felt unrealistic to have all the adults in her life use the same cheer ("Hip, hip, hooray for Annie McRae"). So, for me, that repetition did not work. Later, when all the adults in Annie's life fail to give her encouragement on the same day, what really didn't work for me was that all of them "didn't say a word." Repetition can be helpful, but when it brings some disbelief or makes me step outside the story, I don't think it works. The ending also felt a bit too mature for a young child--having her move from needing encouragement, to encouraging herself, to then asking how her grandmother was. Still, none of those things kept me from enjoying the upbeat feeling in the book.
When Annie feels bad because all the adults in her life ignore her and forget to praise her, this is clearly shown in the text, both by her behavior and through the contrast in her behavior (such as that she puts on her cowboy boots but doesn't click her heels). This works well. Overall, the text is strong, moves forward quickly, and is so positive that it feels good, but not overdone.
Olson's (Herd of Cows! Flock of Sheep!) illustrations are delightful--they're cheerful, happy, and bouncy. Annie is adorable, likable, and has a lot of character. Annie's face glows with her brilliant missing-tooth smile, happy blue eyes, curly red hair, and highlights on her face. The illustrations, which look like pastel, greatly add to the text, working in perfect tandem and bringing a life and energy of their own.
The illustrations are bright and cheery, with white and yellow used as highlights effectively throughout the illustrations to bring a feeling of light and a sense of the illustrations all pulling together, as well as some softness. White, turquoise, orange, and various shades of red, blue, yellow, and brown are repeated throughout the book, bringing a warmth and cheerfulness. The illustrations vary in size and shape, and fit the emotional tone of the book. They move from full page spreads that bleed right to the edges of the pages when Annie is feeling good and receiving a lot of praise, to smaller illustrations that span a spread but progressively have white space around them and rope as a border when Annie is feeling abandoned, to the smallest illustrations that appear small on the page with a lot of white space around them and the rope border when Annie reaches her crisis point, and then a gradual enlarging of the illustrations with the rope borders, as Annie begins to encourage herself and feel better, until the illustrations are back to taking up a full spread and bleeding right to the edges. Olsen shows a sensitivity and tuned-in-ness to the text, and increases the emotional impact of the book through this method.
Annie's body language is always clear; her emotions are visible and evocative. There is also a great contrast between her body language when she is happy, and then when she is upset and angry, and this adds to the story. Annie always stands out the most in each illustration, as she should, by being larger than other characters, by being brighter and more distinct, more in focus, by her huge happy face, or by others' faces not showing. Annie also has a great sense of energy and movement about her. The illustrations fit perfectly with the text; they are as upbeat and happy as the text, and vividly show Annie's enthusiasm and high self-esteem through her body language, such as a beaming face, or the way she marches with her head held high, her knees up, her arms swinging. Background details are faded, which helps make the foreground images pop and move forward.
Olson has added an added layer of fun for readers, by including a hidden horseshoe in every illustration that readers can search for. This should keep a reader busy with the book, even after the book has been read.
This is a high energy, feel good book, with strong messages on boosting self esteem, on how readers can do this themselves with the support of others, and on the positive effects of consistent encouragement. The 'praise-for-chores' can be overlooked. This is an uplifting read with great spirit. Recommended!
-Added May 2007
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