May 03, 2018


Oopsie-Do! By Tim Kubart. Pictures by Lori Richmond. Harper. $17.99.

     Even in well-meaning, well-written, well-illustrated kids’ books, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. And that is what readers ages 4-8, and their families, get from Tim Kubart and Lori Richmond in Oopsie-Do! The idea here is to use Kubart’s fame as a Grammy award winner, and an original song that is available online, to expand upon and reinforce the message of a book that tells young children not to be upset about mistakes – just take them in stride, and all the people around you, kids and adults alike, will come together to fix things.

     It certainly makes sense to present and reinforce the notion that everybody makes mistakes and that accidents, when they happen, are no big deal. And there are some very good books for this age range that make the point quite well, one recent one, for example, being Andrea Tsurumi’s Accident! The secret ingredient in that book, and in effective communication about accidents and their consequences or non-consequences, is humor, not repetition – although repetition can certainly play a role. But where Tsurumi’s book piles absurdity on absurdity as it has “awful” thing after “awful” thing occur for an ever-growing cast of characters, the Kubart/Richmond book has all the accidents – a whole string of them – happen to one single little girl. And while her friends, as shown immediately on the book’s cover, have expressions of concern about the messes that the mistakes cause, the girl herself is seen smiling, her arms thrown wide as if to shrug off the situation as no big deal at all.

     This is fine – up to a point. But the point is made again and again and again in Oopsie-Do! And the response to errors is overly simplistic, even for this age group: “No reason to fret if you make a mistake! Just say OOPSIE-DO!”  Well, yes, if you make a mistake. But in this book, the girl spills fish food when caring for the class aquarium; accidentally dumps her entire snack on the floor when getting her backpack; mixes colors with which she is painting in a way she does not want; falls when kicking a ball; mis-buttons her coat when heading home; and squirts toothpaste onto her pajama top at night. There are mistakes by her little brother and the family dog, too. Kubart and Richmond do not, however, use the pileup of small problems in any humorous way – all readers get is the admonition, again and again and again, to say the magic “oopsie-do!” so everything is all right. Sometimes things are all right because classmates help clean up the spilled fish food, sometimes because the teacher finds a snack replacement, sometimes because the messed-up colors become the basis of a whole new approach to painting – but it is a very messy one that does not earn an “oopsie-do!” even when the girl splatters paint on her face and all over the floor. And sometimes, as with the toothpaste incident, things are all right “just because”: the girl changes her pajama top and leaves the one with toothpaste on it on the floor, along with the toothpaste tube and everything coming out of it. Parents will need to explain that in real life, the paint and toothpaste messes would not be OK if handled as they are in this book.

     And that is the difficulty with the extremely well-intentioned Oopsie-Do! Kubart and Richmond are so determined to show young children that mistakes happen, are no big deal, and are easily corrected, that they deliver the message with considerable repetition and in a by-and-large serious manner. But without the leavening of laughter, the notion that one little girl could make so many mistakes in a single day may upset some kids instead of teaching them a valuable lesson. And the idea that only some messes resulting from accidents need to be cleaned up by the child who made the mistake, while others do not, is unlikely to be something that parents want their children to take into the real world: the cover picture in which the girl seems at most indifferent to what she has done is a bit much for real life. Kubart and Richmond certainly deserve praise for what they try to do in Oopsie-Do! But the way they try to do it turns out to be a bit of an oopsie-do itself.

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