CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 8 . . . . December 7, 2007
Willy, like many small children, has a love-hate relationship with his bath. It's very hard to get him into the bath and then just as hard to get him out. This playful picture book chronicles one such interplay between Willy and his mom, but from Willy's imaginative perspective. Through his eyes, inflatable bath toys are transformed into aquatic animals, and bath-time becomes an exciting adventure. Reality is sustained by the rhyming question-and-answer text as Willy's ordinary responses to his unseen mom belie the extraordinary situation shown in the illustrations. That Willy inadvertently puzzles his mom at the end by saying "we had a nice swim" will delight youngsters, as will the final illustration of the toothbrush-wielding creatures in the mirror above his head.
The page design reinforces the changing reactions of Willy to his bath. As in Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Grouchy Ladybug, pages are cut in shorter widths that increase incrementally. There are full pages before, during and after Willy's bath, but, as he resists getting into the tub, there are five short pages that gradually increase in size. Again, as he opposes getting out, another five pages decrease correspondingly. Turning over the increasing pages, children will see 'real' animals whereas turning over the decreasing pages reveals the same animals as toys. Another effective design technique is that the font is quite different when Willy or his mom is speaking. This gives alert children a visual clue as to who's speaking, and perhaps a suggestion to care-givers reading aloud to modify their voices.
Pascale Constantin illustrations are a perfect match for the text. Her uncomplicated pictures in muted colours serve to draw attention to the more-vibrant imaginary animals, and her full backgrounds integrate beautifully with all the composite pictures. Willy is drawn in a minimal, almost cartoonish, manner, but, with small alterations to line and facial features, she deftly portrays his emotions.
In all, an inspired collaboration that is sure to become a family favourite, especially prior to bath-time. Parents be warned; "Willy John Jones" may fast become a familiar refrain.
Alison Mews is the librarian at the Curriculum Materials Centre at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John's, NL.
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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.