Tuesday, March 20, 2012


By Peter Holwitz (Philomel Books, 2005) Oh, how I love this book! Every time I read it, I need a moment. I need to savor the awe I feel toward Peter Holwitz’ work. I need to ponder how he created such a glorious picture book, one that addresses differences, prejudice and societal change in a common sense manner, so easy to grasp. As the story begins, Scribbleville is a pleasant little community where everyone has a certain sameness. Everything in their little world is comprised of swirly black doodles, from the houses to the bicycles to the actual people and their clothes. And then something disturbs the peace. A truck pulls into town. It is quite the sight: all straight lines and curved lines. There are no swirls whatsoever, not even spewing from the exhaust pipe. But it gets worse. The driver of the straight truck also lacks any scribbles to define him. Like the truck, he’s created by straight and curved lines, too. How utterly different. Of course, this makes the townsfolk very uncomfortable. Why would a man so straight and so slim Want to live in a town where no one’s like him? The Scribblers shun the newcomer with the newly erected straight house and straight picket fence. But then someone visits Mr. Straight’s house. [A] woman walked up. Her hair was a mess. She wore a big smile and a red scribbled dress. And, as if it were the perfectly normal thing to do, the straight man and scribbly woman begin a conversation. Perhaps as a nod to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the red-dressed woman is the first character to appear in color. To be sure, she stands out from the rest of the Scribble People. That single encounter changes everything. While the townsfolk judge her, she straightens much of her scribbly hair. He, in turn, buys “a new shirt he might not have before”, one comprised of blue and yellow scribbles. Scribble People respond with hysteria. This won’t be the last of The Straights! They’ll invade! “There’ll be more of them than there are of us!” As with many changes, the children prove most ready to accept. One boy mixes scribbles and straight lines in a drawing and his peers see how both styles combine to make something better. And then there is no turning back. It’s tough to say—to pick one day. Things never change overnight. But before too long, what once felt wrong, started to feel a bit right. Yes, everything about Scribbleville feels right. I love many picture books, but this is one of my all-time favorites. For teachers, there are so many instances when this book can be used. I have used it in grade one classes and the children are dazzled by the style of drawing. After I read it, they excitedly draw scribble pictures, straight pics and scenes that include a bit of both. The less confident artists find the scribble style quite freeing. (Include me in that “less confident” cluster!) I would love to use this book as a tie-in to discussions on immigration, racism, prejudice, mixed families and homophobia. Like The Dot, it’s a title can be pulled from the shelf for repeated readings. I don’t see how anyone would tire of it! A special thank you to school librarian Lisa Strong who heard me rave about Scribbleville a year and a half ago and kept looking for a copy. The fact this book went out of print offends me. Scribbleville should become a classic for both its entertainment value and its potent message.


  1. Wow, I've got to get my hands on it. Reminds me of the movie "Pleasantville" in a way--where the mother is the first one to turn to color.

  2. I'll have to find this at the library; thanks for the tip and good review!

  3. Thanks for leaving comments, Tara and Margo. I did think of PLEASANTVILLE as well when the flash of color appeared. Here, it's all about enlightenment.

    I hope you can find a copy of the book. I've borrowed a library copy, but I MUST get the book for my own collection as well!