________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 1. . . .September 7, 2012


John Jensen Feels Different.

Henrik Hovland. Illustrated by Torill Kove. Translated by Don Bartlett.
Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2011.
32 pp., hardcover, $16.00 US.
ISBN 978-0-8028-5399-8.

Subject Headings:

Preschool-grade 4 / Ages 3-9.

Review by Lian Beveridge.

*** /4



At night he lies awake. He wonders why he feels he's different. Perhaps it's the tail, he think. No one else has a tail like mine.


While the blurb of John Jensen Feels Different states that "this delightful story will encourage readers of all ages not to fear standing out in a crowd," this picture book is more pleasurable and less didactic than the title suggests. John Jensen is a crocodile (or dinosaur?) who suffers from an obscure sense of "difference." He unsuccessfully experiments with different methods of blending in until he meets a doctor who is a large elephant. Dr. Field encourages John Jensen to identify the positive aspects of being different, and John Jensen embraces his difference to the extent of tying a bow to his tail, as "anyone who wears a bow is not afraid of being different."

     The central metaphor of the text is slightly incoherent John Jensen feels everyone is watching him (they are not); John Jensen feels he doesn't look like anyone else in his family (he does); John Jensen is confused about why he feels different, but seems oblivious to the fact that everyone around him is human. However, the book stands out from the field of "it's okay to be different" books in that John Jensen discovers his own reasons why being different is "just fine." rather than being informed of these by someone else, and because he ends up happily different and alone, rather than being assimilated or accepted by society.

internal art      Torill Kove's charming line drawings make this book a pleasure to read. They are thoughtful and restrained, and they portray the sweet awkwardness of John Jensen and possible isolation of city life. The image of John Jensen worrying in bed with a copy of The Stranger is an excellent example of her work, as are the end-papers which present an accurate step-by-step guide to tying a bowtie just like John Jensen's. Both author and illustrator are originally Norwegian. The illustrations and design of the picture book have a Scandinavian aesthetic.

      While John Jensen Feels Different could be read as a metaphor for queer sexuality, a transgender identity (particularly when John Jensen binds his tail to his body to hide it), or the experience of being a racial minority, it is perhaps most successful as a story about the sadness of urban loneliness, and the pleasures of being alone.


Lian Beveridge is currently teaching at the University of Winnipeg, in Winnipeg, MB, and is about to complete a PhD on queer picture books.

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

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