I love books that make me feel good while entertaining me–and this book does that and more.
Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley
by Aaron Blabey
Front Street/Boyds Mills Press (September 2008)
Ages: 4-8 (and up)
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
And they are different. Different in almost every way.
You see, while Pearl Barley is very loud,
Charlie Parsley is very quiet.
While Pearl Barley likes to talk, talk, talk all day long, about anything and everything, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk…
Charlie Parsley is very shy.
—Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey, p. 3-7.
Can two people be friends if they’re very different? Pearl and Charlie can, and they show you how in this sweet, heartwarming book about appreciating differences and friendship. Pearl and Charlie are very different, and people wonder why they’re friends. Their differences make them seem like opposites–yet those opposites complement each other, and allow them to be there for each other. Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley tells readers, in a subtle way, that it’s okay to be yourself, however you are–and that it’s okay for others to be different from you.
Blabey’s text is well written, moving immediately into a “problem” that will interest the reader and make them turn the page–why are Pearl and Charlie friends when they’re so different? Blabey then illustrates those differences in fun ways before coming to a warming resolution. The sentences vary in length, which helps with the story flow, and the examples are specific and interesting.
Blabey shows the great differences in the personalities of the two friends, with many qualities that readers will likely identify with, whether they are outgoing or more introverted. Blabey has an opposites thing going in the text, comparing and contrasting the qualities of the two characters, which is fun to read, and the qualities fit each character. Even the sentence lengths seem to fit the characters, with boisterous Pearl’s sentences often being longer, and shy Charlie’s shorter. Specific details help the story become stronger and more palatable, such as Charlie bringing Pearl a mug of warm milk, and Pearl forgetting her mittens on cold winter days.
I love how both the shy, introverted character (Charlie) and the loud, outgoing character (Pearl) are heroes or get chances to help each other, in a way that fits their personalities (Charlie tucks Pearl into bed when she’s tired herself out with her antics, and Pearl helps Charlie feel brave when he’s feeling scared). This is a nice balance, showing that both kinds of people can be heroes in their own way–and that each type of personality is perfect for coming to the rescue in certain situations. It’s also nice that the girl isn’t necessarily the shy, timid one.
Blabey’s acrylic-and-mixed-media illustrations are cheerful and cartoon-like, and have the feeling of a young child drawing them (yet in a more sophisticated way), with a single line for a smile or mouth, and an almost doll-like appearance to the characters.
The characters really stand out in Blabey’s illustrations, and are meant to; the characters are drawn on a color-tinged grey backgrounds, so they pop to the forefront, with no distracting background. The colored backgrounds alternate on many pages. Some setting details are brought into individual illustrations to illustrate the story. In some books, this might feel empty, but it works extraordinarily well here, underscoring the importance of the characters and their personalities. I love, too, how the illustrations again go against stereotypes, with Charlie knitting while Pearl rides a motorcycle over a cliff while balancing tea cups and a fish bowl, and Pearl being the pirate while Charlie rides on her back. This reversal of the usual roles seen in society is shown in the story in fun ways, and is a great way to subtly let readers know that girls can be brave and adverturous, and boys can be creative and homey.
Blabey’s illustrations show and build on the characters’ personalities beautifully; Pearl, who is loud, boisterous, and talkative, wears bright clothes, has bright red hair, large eyes, and a wide, often open mouth, while Charlie, who is quiet, shy, and more reserved, wears drab grey or dull colors, has dark hair, small eyes, and a smaller smile. Every illustration shows their character, and is creatively depicted; when Charlie is shy, he’s shown only with his head and shoulders on the page, as if he’s walking off the page.
I also love the humor in the illustrations, such as when Charlie Parsley is shown as being quiet, we see him reading a book titled “The Benefits of Wearing Felt.” That humor tickled me just the right way.
Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley is a warming, uplifting book about friendship, and the fact that it’s okay–even good–to be different, to be yourself–and to value differences in everyone. It’s also a fantastic book for showing that girls can be strong and brave, and for reversing gender stereotypes. This has quickly become one of my new favorite picture books. Highly recommended!