CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 22 . . . . February 10, 2012
Freddie's day starts out as normal, but when she accidentally breaks some strings on her brother's guitar, her first instinct is to lie about it because she's afraid of what he might do. That lie creates a monster – a literal, slimy, monster in her pocket. As she tries to cover up each subsequent lie told through the day, another monster appears. (Get it? A lie is a monster you can't control). She even lies to her best friend. It is only when she gets home, totally at the end of her rope, and confesses to her mother that she can't handle all these monsters that she learns how to rid herself of them. The next day, when her friend is acting strangely, Freddie recognizes the signs of pocket monsters (the titular "fraidy pants") and helps her friend to tell the truth.
When you first open the book, the inside title page pops with bright colours, a cool font, and a slimy green monster. So far, so good. Turn the page, and you get a note to readers about honesty. Uh oh. Any person will know immediately that this is a morals book. The lesson that the reader is about to be hit with like a two-by-four to the head is explicitly spelled out before the story even starts. This sort of heavy-handed preaching rarely makes for good storytelling. In the case of A Fraidy Pants Liar, the concept of using actual monsters as metaphors for lies, and the subsequent chaos that ensues when the lies get out of control, had potential to be a funny story that kids would have enjoyed. It just didn't quite reach that goal. None of the situations Freddie found herself in because of the monsters were actually funny, or even embarrassing. Nor did she have to face any serious consequences, which somewhat negated the level of fear she had about telling the truth.
A Fraidy Pants Liar may be a victim of its format. It may have fared better as a beginner reader or early chapter book. Published as a picture book, it is far too long to sustain the interest of younger children, and the subject matter and language are clearly aimed at a middle-grade level. The illustrations are strong, bold, and hip. Exactly what you would expect from tattoo artist Topher (Toph) Quirring. Almost graffiti-like, the cartoon drawings help to give the book more of a tween feel. However, the kids at whom it is aimed are the least likely to want to read a picture book.
They are also the most likely to roll their eyes at such a two-dimensional character and preachy plot. While Freddie's age and grade are never specified, it is clear that she is old enough that this can't have been her first lie. That the lie is as harmless as knocking over a new guitar hardly lends any gravitas to the situation. Surely monsters would only manifest themselves during a moral dilemma with grey areas, the kind of moral dilemmas that tweens actually face.
While not the kind of book that I foresee kids picking up or re-reading out of personal interest, it may still be an important title to include in school and library collections. As a way of talking about how lies are born from fear, taking responsibility for one's actions, and facing consequences of lying and of making mistakes, A Fraidy Pants Liar may help parents broach a difficult topic with their children.
Barb Janicek is a Children's Librarian with Kitchener Public Library, in Kitchener, ON.
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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.