October 18, 2012
(++++) COPING STRATEGIES
Stuck with the Blooz. By Caron Lewis. Illustrated by Jon Davis. Harcourt. $16.99.
Sleep Like a Tiger. By Mary Logue. Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Houghton Mifflin. $16.99.
One of these books starts with a little girl in bed and the others ends with one there, and both deal with the ups and downs of everyday life – and some creative ways of handling them. But there the resemblances end. Caron Lewis’s Stuck with the Blooz not only has a very Seussian title but also comes with some remarkably Seussian digitally painted illustrations by Jon Davis. Not that this is a tribute to Dr. Seuss, at least overtly – but the notion of translating “feeling blue” into a creature called the Blooz is one that recalls the good doctor. And the idea that the creature cannot be kept out by a very determined-looking little girl – but insists on tromping through the house, leaving squishy blue footprints everywhere, and being “very big and very wet and very blue” – is a Seussian one as well. The huge-nosed, oversize Blooz, which looks slightly like one of Al Capp’s Shmoos (but with a downcast expression), dribbles into the girl’s chocolate milk and squeezes into her lemonade – and if there were ever a perfect metaphor for just feeling blue, this dribbling is it. The determined girl, her posture and gestures and expressions reminiscent of those of Dr. Seuss’s characters, asks the Blooz questions to try to get rid of it – and, in another Seussian touch, one question is accompanied by a picture of an upside-down goldfish that looks downright imitative. The lesson here, which the girl learns bit by bit, is that you cannot talk the Blooz away, cannot feed the Blooz away, cannot tempt the Blooz with a blanket or pillow: “It just sat there, large and lumpy.” The girl eventually just accepts having the Blooz, slinks into her room with the creature (in identical postures), and hides (with the Blooz) under her bed. Then, gradually, she starts to do things – painting a picture, going outside to collect leaves, kicking the dirt, riding her bike – and slowly, although the Blooz is still there, the girl’s expression changes, becoming happier and more focused, until the bike hits a bump and the Blooz flies off, into the air, merging into “the brightest, bluest day” with a clear and beautiful sky. A book that teaches brilliantly by not seeming to teach at all, Stuck with the Blooz has Seussian sensibilities, for sure, but its mixture of sensitive writing and wonderfully apt art makes it a joy in its own right.
The art in Sleep Like a Tiger, which includes computer illustrations plus mixed-media paintings on wood, is immensely appealing as well: Pamela Zagarenski’s illustrations are fun to look at even without reading Mary Logue’s text. But they complement the text very well, too. The story is a simple one about a little girl who is just not sleepy – apparently a princess, given the crown she wears, the ones her parents wear as well, and the book The Little Prince that her mother holds on one page. The parents, whether really royal or imagined to be, move things ahead bit by bit: it is all right not to sleep, but put on pajamas; wash your face; brush your teeth; climb into bed. Still not sleepy, the girl asks whether everything sleeps, and her parents say yes, talking about the family dog and cat, and bats and whales, and snails and bears. Then the girl thinks about a tiger sleeping in the jungle; and then her parents leave the room (keeping the door open a crack) and say it is all right if the girl stays awake all night if she wants to. So the girl thinks about how animals sleep – dog, cat and so on – and by the time she thinks about the tiger, she falls asleep herself. The story is lovingly told, and the illustrations, particularly those of the whales, are beautifully done and fit the real-but-dreamlike milieu exactly as they should. This is a lovely bedtime book, with parents who handle the “I’m not sleepy” routine just the right way, and a little girl who learns how to put herself to sleep – and can teach the technique to other non-sleepy children who become involved in the story.