________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006


Clara and the Bossy.

Ruth Ohi.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2006.
32 pp., pbk. & cl., $6.95 (pbk.), $19.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-55037-942-9 (pbk.), ISBN 1-55037-943-7 (cl.).

Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

*** /4



On Tuesday, Madison asked, "Why do you always wear the same dress every day?"

Clara looked down at her dress. She did wear it a lot. It was her favorite. Her mom had sewn large pockets on the front so that Clara would have a place to store any treasures she found.

On Wednesday, Clara wore her yellow dress.

"Why do you always have tuna sandwiches?" asked Madison at lunchtime.

Clara looked at her sandwich. She loved tune. Her mom put bits of pickle in it, which made it extra-yummy."

On Thursday, Clara brought a ham sandwich.


This is the story of Clara, a happy child, who welcomes new friend Madison into her life. However, Madison's bossy and critical personality soon overwhelm quiet Clara and hurt her feelings until she decides to express herself once again. The gentle message is told with easy to read text and Ruth Ohi's well-known style of watercolor illustrations. The cast of characters – young guinea pigs in primary school – are lively and active in a setting familiar to young children as one of their first learning experiences about socialization.

     Clara is introduced as unique: "In all the world, there was only one Clara quite like Clara." This important, positive statement about individuality foreshadows the outcome of the story in a subtle way. The simple text leads the reader through a steadily paced plot showing cause/effect of each encounter between Clara and Madison. Repetition assists in emphasizing Clara's love of her favorite purple dress, triangle-shaped tuna sandwiches and her careful thought process as she reviews each of her favorite things once she's had her fill of Madison's demands. Most of the dialogue in the story is given to Madison in order to show her dominant nature. Clara responds in mostly silent contemplation of her feelings. Only when she decides to express her individuality once again do we hear her delighted and confident voice. She's happy to maintain the friendship with Madison, as long as she can still be herself. The reactions of these characters are realistic and will ring true with young readers.

     Ohi's appealing illustrations parallel the events on each page with an omniscient viewpoint. Primary colors form the basis, while there is a strong focus on purple as Clara's favorite hue. Character facial expressions tell a story in themselves; it's easy to follow Clara's change of mood through the story by her body language (still, head down) and sad, rather puzzled look. Madison wears a bossy frown and has a somewhat superior aspect until she finds herself left out of Clara's games. Her peace offering, purple grapes, ensures she'll be included in the fun once again. Ohi has cleverly added a subplot that runs through the illustrations in the person of young Burt. His passion for dinosaurs is evident on many pages as he goes about drawing them in the dirt and on paper, modeling them in sand and clay, playing with a dino-patterned ball, even creating a face in his lunchtime bologna. It's Madison's derision of Burt's dino-mania – "What's with you and dinosaurs anyway?" – that seems to be the turning point for Clara. And on the final page, it's Burt's creation of a "barosaurus...as tall as a five-storey building" that all the kids rush to see. But Ohi hasn't shown it! A fun finish to delight the reader's imagination.

Highly Recommended.

BC’s Gillian Richardson, a former teacher-librarian, is a freelance writer.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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