Monday, December 5, 2011

17 THINGS I’M NOT ALLOWED TO DO ANYMORE

Written by Jenny Offill

Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

(Schwartz & Wade Books, 2007)

This is one of those dangerous books. In the wrong hands, it will bring new, sparkly ideas to any already sparkly minded boy or girl. Pity the younger brother, the mother or the teacher of that child. Fortunately, most readers will chuckle as they live vicariously through the curious mind of the protagonist (antagonist?).

At home, this girl wears her pink robe; at school, she is the only one who arrives in uniform: buttoned to the top yellow blouse and plaid skirt. But she is neither prim nor girly—at least, not in the stereotypical sense. What makes her really stand out are the black galoshes she clomps around in and the unkempt hair, complete with a tuft that intentionally sticks straight up with the help of a rubber band. This is a girl who, in her desire for sameness, will always be different.

The book is exactly what the title states, a list of intriguing ideas acted out but once. Jenny Offill’s text grabs us from the first page spread: “I had an idea to staple my brother’s hair to his pillow. I am not allowed to use the stapler anymore.” Naturally, she moves on to restricting her sibling with glue. This is a child who requires an ever-expanding set of site-specific rules.

Nancy Carpenter’s illustrations which combine pen-and-ink drawings with digital media are highly engaging. She perfectly captures the girl’s expressions such as her delight and concentration when trying to walk to school backwards. There are extras on the pages (e.g., the pen stain on the principal’s shirt; the cover page of a report on George Washington that somewhere along the way changed to an obviously more compelling assignment on beavers).

At times, the writing loses some zing through its too literal yin yang between the idea and the new rule. For instance, “I had an idea to walk backward all the way to school. I am not allowed to walk backward to school anymore.” The action and reaction are realistic. This seems to be a child who cannot generalize some of her learning. Still, the amusing ideas warrant more creativity in the writing.

I have not read this book aloud to any class due to one of the pages (which, I suppose, I could easily skip). We see the girl doing a handstand along with the words, “I had an idea to show Joey Whipple my underpants.” Yes, this may be true to life, but it strikes me as creepy to have the school principal playing it for laughs with a young audience. I would love to know other people’s thoughts. Feel free to post a comment.

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