CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 33 . . . . April 29, 2011
As Noni grows, she acquires new skills and a good degree of independence. She can count, hop, fold napkins, give her baby brother his bottle, tie her own laces and walk alone to her special friend's house. But, although she was good at saying "No" when she was smaller, she just cannot deny her ebullient, determined friend, Susie, anything even when it goes against her own interests. Even when Susie shaves Noni's head, even when she tears a page from Noni's favourite book and takes the lead role in their play, Noni cannot assert herself to tell her friend "No." But one night on a sleepover when Susie takes the bed while Noni shivers on the floor, she learns her lesson. The next morning, dreading the ensuing scene, Noni says "No" to Susie when she asks for the last bowl of her favourite cereal. When Susie cheerfully replies, "OK. I'll have toast." Noni learns that being a good friend and standing up for oneself are not incompatible.
At one level, Noni Says No is a heartwarming story of friendship and a young child's coming to accept and trust her own judgment. On another, it makes a statement about the necessity of children acquiring assertiveness skills at an early age and emphasizes the need to be oneself and have one's own views in a friendship. Noni's submissiveness to her friend's every whim ends up making her feel angry, anxious and lacking in confidence, while Susie, oblivious and busy, carries on regardless. Although Noni is the quiet hero of the day, one can't help having a sneaking regard for Susie who apparently has no problems with her own self-esteem and has already learned how to carve her path in life!
There are some concerns and inconsistencies in the story that are bothersome. For instance, where were the parents when a child of Susie's age was brandishing a pair of scissors in the hairdressing game, and how on earth did she manage to shave Noni's head with scissors? And it seems hard to imagine any mother agreeing to a child's coming over for a sleepover and allowing either of them to sleep on the bare floor. The story also ended on an abrupt note and left one wanting more. Otherwise, Noni Says No reads well, and children will certainly relate and respond to a situation within their experience, while adults will recognize and discuss the deeper message of the story with their child.
The story is complemented by the colourful sketch-like illustrations of Geneviève Côté who has illustrated several other books including her own What Elephant? She has received several honours for her previous works, including the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Award and the Governor General's Literary Award for Illustration. While the pictures are whimsical and simple in style, they manage to capture the emotion of Noni's frustration and Susie's carefree love of life effectively. The author, Heather Hartt-Sussman, is a well-known and experienced journalist and recently published her first children's book, Nana's Getting Married, which has received critical acclaim.
Recommended with reservations.
Aileen Wortley, a retired librarian, lives in Toronto, ON.
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