"The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise." - author Jackie French

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Review: Dandelion

I was very excited when this book appeared in my mailbox. What a stunning cover and beautifully-presented book. I even loved the title and as I began to read, I also fell in love with the subject matter.

Little Benjamin Brewster walks to school each day, across a pitch-as-night page, methodically counting the steps it takes to get there. And 'there' is an ominous sight indeed - an imposing building that appears to look down on Benjamin Brewster, and frown.

Counting to ten, the wee lad finally summons the courage to go inside - to a place where happy thoughts run and hide. To a place where courage is swayed as challenges are thrown his way.

Yes, you guessed it. Young Benjamin is a victim of bullying.

As this book unfolded, I was increasingly struck by the stunning artwork. Ishinjerro has created striking, mood-filled and emotion-drenched pages that beautifully represent the text in this book.

Alas, the text - for me - was not so striking.

Not only does it hop awkwardly (and surprisingly) between rhyme and non-rhyme, the flow of the story is frequently tripped up by incongruous word-placement, a clear attempt to place words in an order that might effect rhyme. As is the way with most picture books that attempt rhyme (achingly few do it well), I feel this attempt ruins the storyline and does nothing but frustrate the reader. In a story where the focus should be on the emotion found between the lines, the reader instead finds themselves having to navigate the bumps in the lines - thereby drastically losing narrative impact.

The subject matter that I also fell in love with at the start of the story (I am a strong advocate for anti-bullying in schools) also lost its foothold as the book veered away from Benjamin's internal fear and mental anguish to the suggestion that children can only escape bullies by blowing on dandelions and then internalising it all and relying on their imagination to wish it all away. By the end of the book, I didn't feel that sorry for Benjamin any more. The fondness and concern I felt for him in the opening pages quickly disappeared and he instead became insipid and frustrating.

This book left me sad, not uplifted. It made me want to rescue that child from the pages but not in the way I feel the author intended. I feel this story intimates that nothing can be done about bullying - that kids should just sail away into an alternate mental reality and put up with the abuse. The old 'sticks and stones' adage - that the things you say and do can't hurt me unless I allow them to, is pure rot. Words DO harm. And their wounds reach far deeper than sticks and stones ever could.

Despite this, I feel the concept behind Dandelion is a good one and the production of this book is truly beautiful. Perhaps the book will achieve its goal to open up the topic of bullying with children, but I don't feel its narrative messaging is an effective one.

Title: Dandelion
Author: Galvin Scott Davis
Illustrator: Anthony Ishinjerro
Publisher: Random House, $19.95 RRP
Publication Date: 2 April 2013
Format: Hardcover with dust jacket
ISBN: 9780857981028
For ages: 6 - 12
Type: Picture Book

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