CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 24. . . .February 21, 2014
From the point of view of this Winnipeg reviewer who invited three elementary age children to "Step outside..." in minus 30 degree weather yesterday, Groenendyk's theme has a certain resonance. Prairie readers may note, however, that, although rain, mist, wind, sunshine and darkness provide the backdrop to the artist's original watercolour and acrylic creations, not one of the 14 double page spreads features snow!
Doretta Groenendyk is a painter and writer who has written and illustrated several children's books, including Snow for Christmas and Thank You for My Bed, both of which were shortlisted for the Lillian Shepherd Memorial Award for Illustration. In Step Outside, Groenendyk’s bright-coloured paintings, combined with collage, are sprinkled with unexpected and not-quite-hidden items and words. Put together with appropriate breaks, the text becomes a poem. In fact, the book could and should be read as a poem. The author-illustrator's appealing visual style, combined with themes that address current issues of childhood obesity and dependence on electronic entertainment, will find favour among many parents and educators. There is, however, a question as to the intended audience for Step Outside. One assumes it is for very young children to listen and respond to. Unfortunately, the lesson is so insistent that the book takes on a preachy tone. ("Hey you guys! Turn off that T.V/computer/I-phone/I-pad/leapster...and get outside!") None of us would dare argue with the message, but perhaps a picture book celebrating outside activities, such as Barbara Reid's Perfect Snow or Nancy Hundal's Camping, illustrated by Brian Deines, would have a more direct effect on outdoor-averse kids.
It might also be interesting to discover adult readers' reactions to illustrations of kids alone outside in the dark exploring and camping or riding their bikes without helmets. Yet it would be a sad, and more than a little ironic if there should be a need to append the warning, "Do not attempt these activities without adult supervision", at the beginning of Groenendyk's book. After all, an important part of the author's message concerns children's need to shake themselves loose from constant supervision as they step outside to explore their environment! Despite the relevance and importance of Step Outside's themes, it might have been wiser to for this gifted illustrator to use a more oblique approach in delivering her message.
These comments aside, Gronendyk's picture book certainly has a strong visual appeal, and it could prove a useful stimulus for discussions on independence and adventures outside the house with 5 to 8-year-olds. Whether, as the dustcover proclaims, "Step Outside will be sure to get you off your chair and enjoying the outdoors" is less certain.
Recommended with reservations.
A retired teacher-librarian, Val Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.