CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 15 . . . . December 9, 2011
My Name Is Elizabeth!
Annika Dunklee. Illustrated by Matthew Forsythe.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2011.
24 pp., hardcover, $14.95.
Preschool-kindergarten / Ages 3-5.
Review by Sabrina Wong.
“But I don’t like it when people call me names other than ELIZABETH.”
In My name is Elizabeth!, Annika Dunklee tells the story of a young girl who is frustrated by being called nicknames. The plot, clearly aimed for a younger audience, is simple, but what will capture readers are the expressive illustrations by Matthew Forsythe. Rendered in pen and ink, and coloured with gouache, his pictures have a simple style but are full of details. While there is limited text, the illustrations are full of points of interest that could capture the attention of a small child.
A muted light blue and pumpkin orange colour scheme, a real retro throwback, will draw in stylish parents looking for a pretty book to display on their child’s shelf. But while the palette in the book may be limited to three shades, the choice is eye-catching enough to hold the attention of a small child. The use of pale blue in the illustrations helps to balance the stark contrast between the white, bright orange and black elements. Blocks of bright orange and black are used to delineate characters from the scenery. The book’s illustrations are more than just accompaniment to the story – indeed, Forsythe’s pictures carry the burden of expressing the emotion that the limited amount of text in the book cannot.
Some readers might find that the linear plot is overly simplistic and predictable, but the fast-paced story is perfectly suited for young preschoolers. The text consists entirely of dialogue: Elizabeth tells us the story as readers follow her around. My name is Elizabeth! does not claim to teach a lesson, unless it is to yell at others when one does not get one’s way. It is lighthearted and rambunctious, with a cheeky protagonist. At the heart of this story is Elizabeth’s love for her name, just as it is: “I like that it’s nine letters long. And I like all the neat things my mouth does when I say it. I also like that there is a queen named after me!”
There are a number of learning opportunities available in My Name is Elizabeth!. For example, Elizabeth’s frustration at being called Lizzy, Betsy, Liz, Beth and Betsy by others can lead to a conversation about name calling and taking pride in your name. The illustrations of Elizabeth pronouncing her name can also be used to show a young child how to sound out words. Elizabeth’s crown-wearing pet duck provides another way for the child reader to engage with the book since the reader can follow the duck’s experiences through the book and empathize with the animal’s emotions.
To convey the energy and excitement of the story, the illustrations use hieratic scale, where the importance of each figure is relative to its size. When Elizabeth hollers, with crossed arms, that her name is “ELIZABETH Alfreda Roxanne Carmelita Bluebell Jones!!”, she is gigantic, looming over a stylized image of a town that not so much resembles an orderly grid as a crazy quilt. City blocks are laid out haphazardly, intersected with a wavy pattern of cars and sidewalk and populated with tiny people. Over it all stands Elizabeth Alfreda Roxanne Carmelita Bluebell Jones and her pet duck.
Readers flip the page to find a collection of shocked townspeople. Without any text, this spread encourages a young reader to form his or her own interpretation of the scene. The crossing guard and students gape and look up, the startled grocer has dropped the eggs, the newspaper boy is about to lose his tug-of-war with a dog over a paper, and Elizabeth’s grandfather looks surprised while her oblivious brother continues to play in the fallen leaves. The story wraps up, in a rather predictable manner, shortly after Elizabeth’s outburst. Although it may not set the example that parents want their children to follow, it is nevertheless a charming little story about a girl who has one simple request: to be called the name of her choice.
Sabrina Wong is a MLIS candidate at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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