Aug 3, 2013

Taming the Beast

In recent posts I've featured inspiring titles, biographies of honorable role models, and non-fiction titles of historic events. Each has something to offer for readers and listeners across many ages, but the target audience would be school age readers and older. In part that's due to my mission to move picture books into the hands of established older readers.

It occurred to me that I'm more than a bit overdue to share some titles aimed at a younger audience. What brought this to mind was getting my hands on the recent release from author illustrator Zachariah OHoraNO FITS, NILSON!
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013
Nilson (the gorilla) and Amelia (his best friend) have super-sized personalities and share everything (except baths-Nilson is afraid of water). Amelia's minimalist features reveal her wide-ranging emotions, and Nilson's bold-lined features combine with his gestures and body language to demonstrate emotions that range even more widely and wildly. In the early pages we witness one of Nilson's impressive fits resulting in their shared time-out. (hint-hint)

From that point on Amelia makes it her mission to help Nilson control his fits, modeling good manners, sharing her favorite things, thanking him for his efforts, and using a gorilla eye lock to help him calm down and delay gratification. When the long-awaited banana twist ice cream runs out, Amelia launches her own fit. Nilson saves the day by offering his cone to her and taking chocolate instead. 

This simple story is loaded with visual subtext and clues, subtle and otherwise. The bold red endpapers create a clear "stop-sign" and/or danger message. The minute details suggest a more complex relationship between the two than the words convey. Amelia redirects and coaches Nilson with an array of strategies that, if spouted by an adult, would come off as preachy. In this case, though, her efforts to keep the gigantic blue, sneaker-and-beanie-wearing gorilla friend in check are both silly and sincere. 

And just in case you haven't guessed that her reminders and warnings to Nilson are a bit more than each-one-teach-one peer coaching, the last page-turn drops Amelia and Nilson back into recognizable perspective as she cuddles in bed with her little stuffed toy gorilla.

This book works on so many levels it should come with an elevator. I'm not an artist (and I don't even play one in the movies) but I know enough about art and picture books to recognize award-winning potential in its design and execution. The white space backgrounds, the shifting in size and proportion, the story-telling power of expressions and details provide discussion points for older readers while parents and young ones will laugh out loud and ask for it again and again. This School LIbrary Journal review provides an extensive analysis and links to several other "tantrum" titles, new and old.

Who knows, sharing NO FITS, NILSON and these others might help some little stuffed friends conquer their own fits, too.

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