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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
No! That's Wrong!
No! That's Wrong!
by Zhaohua Ji, illustrated by Cui Xu
It's a hat!
(No, that's wrong. It's not a hat.)
"What a wonderful hat!"
"I think it's too small."
"What a fabulous hat."
"I think it's too big."
(No, that's wrong. It's not a hat.)
--No! That's Wrong! by Zhaohua Ji, illustrated by Cui Xu p. 1-4.
I love books that make me laugh. Books that make me feel good. No! That's Wrong! does all that beautifully.
Rabbit mistakes a pair of frilly red underwear she finds for a beautiful hat, and parades around happily wearing them. The other animals all try on her "hat", too, enjoying it. Then a donkey in a suit tells the rabbit that it's not a hat, it's underwear (as does the unseen narrator). But wearing underwear just doesn't work for the rabbit--her tail won't fit and it makes her uncomfortable--so she goes back to what made her happy in the first place--thinking that it really is a beautiful hat. Children will delight in the rabbit's mistaking underwear for a hat, and wearing them on her head.
Ji perfectly understands a young child's sense of humor and what they will enjoy. I, myself, delighted in this funny story. Ji's text is divided between the characters' dialogue, shown within the illustrations, and the unseen narrator, filling in for the parent or adult, which is shown on the outside of the illustrations at the bottom of the page. The narrator/adult voice will add to the child reader's sense of fun and hilarity, as the narrator/adult insists that the hat is not a hat, and eventually states that it's underwear, while the rabbit continues to insist that it's a hat. This works beautifully. Children will especially enjoy telling the rabbit that she is wrong since they have so many rules imposed on them, and are themselves trying to figure out what is right and wrong--but they'll know that wearing underwear on your head isn't something that you do. I'm sure kids will enjoy shouting out that the underwear is not a hat.
Ji uses wonderful humor throughout the book, from the various animals all trying the frilly red underwear on their heads as a hat, to the rabbit trying to stuff herself into the underwear after she discovers the correct way and finding that her tail doesn't fit, to all the animals being shocked at seeing rabbit wearing the underwear correctly and insisting that it's wrong and that it is indeed a hat as the rabbit thought, a hat--all the while ignoring the narrator who insists in vain that they are underwear. The tension between the unseen and unheard narrator and the animals also increases the humor of the story.
The text is all dialogue, from the characters to the unseen narrator, and this helps the story move quickly and feel animated.
This is a very funny, light-hearted book, sure to bring laughter and giggles to young and old alike.
Xu's bright, humorous illustrations really add to the hilarity and fun of the book. They show so much of what's happening, often more than the text does, and greatly build on the story. Xu uses bright gouache, with purple and turquoise frequently filling the background trees, and a lime green for the grass. The red frilly underwear stand out on every page, being the brightest spot of color and the only red. Xi includes a bonus illustration before the text of the story begins, showing the red frilly underwear flying off a clothesline, which helps readers understand where it came from.
Body language in the illustrations is strong, accentuating the characters' feelings. I love the rabbit's shocked body language when she first sees the way that people correctly wear underwear. Illustrations appear one per spread within a thin black border, though sometimes there are really two illustrations (one per page, with the backgrounds and border cleverly matching up), and sometimes there's one with the rabbit appearing multiple times in an illustration, interacting with different characters. This works well, and brings a seamless feeling to the book, while still bringing variety.
Xu makes the donkey who knows how underwear is really worn stand out from the other animals through his clothing. He wears a suit coat, tie, shirt, shorts, running shoes, and sunglasses, while all the other animals wear nothing at all until they put on their "hats". The donkey also brings out a book to illustrate his point, while the other animals aren't ever seen with books. This makes the donkey character more believable, and it also helps the reader believe that the other animals wouldn't recognize underwear.
Xu captures the emotion and intent of the story text perfectly, building on it and enhancing it. In the second-to-last illustration, we see the rabbit pull up the illustration border as she decides that the underwear really is a hat. This adds to the sense that the rabbit is freeing herself from outside constraints, from what others think or insist is right, and is instead following her heart. In the last illustration, the rabbit is particularly joyous when she reclaims the underwear as a pretty hat, appearing huge on the double spread, leaping through the air as she holds onto her "hat." This is the only illustration without a border, the colors bleeding right to the edges of the pages, which gives the illustration a free feeling. These illustration help the ending feel very happy and joyful. The happiness and humor is increased by a bonus illustration on the end papers showing all the animals with various articles of clothing proudly on their heads, copying rabbit and adopting their own special hats. What a hoot!
No! That's Wrong! is an absolute delight to read. It is funny and entertaining, silly yet holding a good message--that you can believe in yourself and stick to it, and find your own personal happiness, no matter what others think or what the conventions are. And in so doing, you might even set a trend! If you're looking for a picture book to bring good feeling and laughter, or to encourage readers to be themselves, this is it. Get a copy for anyone who's been down in the dumps and needs cheering up.
-Added February 13, 2009
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