CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 13 . . . . March 4, 2005
The last day of school is full of excitement for Omar and his bear friends who are celebrating with a party at the pond. But Omar can't impress his friends the way he does in winter when he jumps higher than anyone on the ice. Omar sinks in the water, and, eager as he is to dive, he discovers that he has a fear of heights. Despite his friends' support, he is embarrassed. However, when his classmate, Elsie, loses her balloons, Omar focuses on retrieving them. He forgets his fear of heights to climb the diving board and lunge for the errant balloons. When he emerges from the water, his friends and all the pond life cheer his accomplishment. Omar has overcome his fears and helped a friend.
Maryann Kovalski has authored or illustrated more than 50 books, including Take Me Out to the Ball Game, The Wheels on the Bus and Brenda and Edward. However solid her reputation, there are several problems in the plot and character development that make Omar On Board a weak story. One must have read Omar On Ice to understand Omar's disappointment about his performance in the pond. Even then, the recollection of his talent on ice is only referred to anecdotally and is not even demonstrated through the illustrations. The story is plot driven with one event after another occurring. Omar is pleased that he receives pink goggles for a gift on page 2, but there is no further mention of them, even though he wears them through the rest of the story. The foreshadowing of the lost balloons lacks suspense. Kovalski takes twenty pages to establish the problem, too long to hold the reader's interest. When it is established, Omar steps forward to rescue the situation, but Kovalski has given no hint in advance that he has qualities of fearlessness. When Elsie gives him a balloon as thanks, she says, "Balloons are lucky for you." But luck has played no part in the story. Omar hadn't even noticed the balloons before he broke one while swimming the backstroke.
The simple text compounds the problem. The lack of rich narrative and dialogue makes it rather plodding. Kovalski uses water colours to present children with soft, rounded bears wearing pleasant, old-fashioned outfits, although sometimes her perspective seems off, such as when she puts Omar up on the diving board. From ground level, he looks like a baby bear. Similarly, one must look twice to figure out that it is Elsie beneath a bathing cap. The expressions of delight and concern on the bears' faces will appeal to young children. Nature exhibits a lot of character, from the tiny birds that peek out of the nest to the grass bending in the breeze. Her deceptively simple style includes lots of detail and humour. Omar On Board will appeal to young children mostly because the illustrations add depth to the story.
Recommended with Reservations.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.