Get a free SCARS short story. Sign up for News & Goodies from YA Author Cheryl Rainfield
Love my books? Join my Street Team! You'll have my deep gratitude, hear book news first, get swag, and enter to win private contests
Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Jeffrey and Sloth
Jeffrey and Sloth
by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Ben Hodson
Orca Book Publishers,(April 2007)
Jeffrey looked at the blank page. It glared back.
He tried to write but couldn't think of something to write about.
So he doodled instead.
His ideas came slowly, and he found himself sketching a round-bellied, long-armed sloth.
--Jeffrey and Sloth by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Ben Hodson, p. 1-4.
Have you ever stared at a blank page, not knowing what to write? That's exactly what the boy in this book faces. In Jeffrey and Sloth, Jeffrey can't think of what to write--so he doodles instead. And one of his doodles, a sloth, comes alive--and starts insulting Jeffrey and telling him what to write. At first Jeffrey co-operates, but pretty soon he gets tired of being bossed around by the sloth, and rebels by writing a story about the sloth, making the sloth do what he wants. Jeffrey and Sloth touches on something many writers, artists, and anyone who's faced homework they hate will identify with--the blank page.
Winters' concept of having the doodle come alive and having Jeffrey be prodded into creating a story is both creative and fun. The beginning text moves quickly and completely swept me into the story, but later some of the dialogue felt a bit clunky, and the story slowed down, particularly when the characters were trying to control each other. I also would have preferred a little less telling and more showing, or allowing the reader to pick up on what was happening. Canadian readers may enjoy spotting the Canadian references.
At first the story Jeffrey writes is funny; after being put down so much by the sloth, he writes that the sloth is pudgy, and readers will likely chuckle or side with Jeffrey as the sloth protests. But the book quickly moves into a fight for power, and for me, there was a bit too much negativity--the sloth putting Jeffrey down, and then Jeffrey controlling the sloth and making the sloth go to extremes. I actually started to feel sorry for the sloth, and when Jeffrey smiles when the sloth is thirsty and he makes him swim through a cold lake instead of allowing him to drink, I lost a bit of empathy for Jeffrey. Still, the story ends on an upbeat note, with the sloth "admitting" that the Jeffrey is a good writer (although he admits this under some duress and one wonders how sincere it really is), and Jeffrey finally allowing the sloth to relax and curl up under his blanket, Jeffrey's homework completed.
Through the sloth's protestation that Jeffrey can't make him do anything, and Jeffrey's realization that indeed he can by writing about him, the book may help readers see that through writing their own stories, they can decide what happens, and perhaps feel a sense of control over their lives.
Hodson's acrylic-and-colored-pencil illustrations are bright, lively, and cartoonish, and make the book visually appealing. Hodson has a strong sense of design; Patterns appear on the wallpaper, the floor, and the furniture, bringing a pleasing visual touch. Well-drawn perspective and some use of light and shadow add depth to many of the illustrations. Vibrant colors repeat throughout the illustrations, visually pulling the book together; a rich yellow is especially used in most backgrounds, and purple, blue, orange, and grey also repeat often. The backgrounds often have great washes of color, with little or no details, except in Jeffrey's room, where there are many believable objects befitting a young boy, including a toy robot and airplane, a shell, a goldfish bowl, various balls, a model volcano, and posters on the wall.
Jeffrey's doodles, appearing as black pencil on white paper, are sweetly drawn and come alive, the line moving from a smaller image of Jeffrey and his page to a larger page where readers can see what he's doodled. In other illustrations, Jeffrey's doodles appear on his page in front of him, where readers can view what he's drawn. This has great visual appeal. The objects Jeffrey draws for the sloth that appear in his room are 3-D, like the rest of Jeffrey's furniture, and fit in beautifully. White lines are drawn around the images as they "appear" in the room, bringing a sense of magic.
The illustrations bleed right to the edges of the pages, and vary from one per page to a full spread, with some smaller illustrations appearing on top of others. Two different fonts make a nice differentiation between the story and the story Jeffrey writes, and this distinction is increased by Jeffrey's story appearing on small pieces of white paper.
There is a bonus illustration on the inside title page that adds to the story, where Jeffrey arrives home carrying his backpack and hat, staring glumly at the blank pages of paper and the pencil waiting on his desk. Observant readers will enjoy spotting the sloth appearing on a pinned-up poster on Jeffrey's wall before he even begins to doodle him, and noticing that the map that the sloth travels over is also pinned up on Jeffrey's wall.
Jeffrey and Sloth encourages creativity, creative writing, doodling, and art. Readers may want to try to make their own doodles come alive, putting words to their own stories.
-Added May 2007
Want more books?
Go back to Encouraging Creativity: Thinking Outside the Box to find great Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach.
Or, go to Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach to see all of the books.