Monday, April 4, 2011

Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann (1995)

Officer Buckle & Gloria (Caldecott Medal Book)In her Caldecott acceptance speech for Office Buckle and Gloria, Peggy Rathmann explains that this classic story grew out of a course assignment, which was to create a picture book that could not be understood through the text alone.  That's exactly why I love using this book---along with Rathmann's Goodnight, Gorilla---to introduce the picture book to my Children's Literature students.  Whereas with a simple illustrated book, the text is primary and the images merely complementary, a true picture book derives much of its impact and meaning from the dynamic relationship between text and image.  Here, text and image may extend, complicate, or even undermine each other; neither one is primary, and one is incomplete without the other.

Certainly this is true of Officer Buckle and Gloria, the story of one well-intentioned but painfully boring police officer who enjoys collecting and lecturing about safety tips.  Officer Buckle's hundred-point lecture suddenly starts attracting a massive cult following once he is joined on stage by his canine friend Gloria.  But there's something important that Officer Buckle doesn't understand, and readers are only clued in by Rathmann's playful watercolor illustrations.  Certainly the gap between what we (as readers) know and what Officer Buckle knows is at the heart of the book's comic force.  Yet the many visual details---and Rathmann's especially skillful use of borders to contain (and fail to contain) the action---also contribute significantly to the story's humor. This is not only a very silly read, but a charming one as well, as we witness the unlikely friendship that develops between the staid officer and the goofy dog.

Miss E has loved this book for a long time, although she still hasn't internalized Safety Tip #77: Never Stand on a Swivel Chair.  She says that her favorite part is "what Gloria does," but she can also spend hours chuckling over the "safety tip" illustrations on the endpapers

Bonus:  If you have a Lackawanna County Library Card, you can download a charming audiobook version of this story narrated by Jon Lithgow.  And like so many of the good things that come out of public libraries, this one is free!!

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