Thursday, July 26, 2012

Llama Llama Mad at Mama (2007), by Annna Dewdney.

Although Dewdney's Llama Llama series---now with four board books and a sixth picture book due out in the fall.---is starting to feel uncomfortably like a franchise, I will always have a soft spot for this, the second volume.  This story about Llama and Mama's Saturday morning shopping trip to a big box store expertly captures the inevitable, daily dance of conflict and reconciliation between parent and young child (Well, except that Mama is a bit more patient than most real parents, though I suppose that this part of the wish-fulfillment the text offers to both parents and children).  But what I find most impressive about this book is Dewdney's skill in presenting an all-too-painfully-familiar image of a child's public tantrum---complete with "[F]lying pasta" and "spraying juice"---in a way that makes even adult readers feel empathy for the child.

Part of this is achieved through Dewdney's playful, shifting rhyme, which lightens the mood even when Llama is at his brattiest.  That effect is further enhanced by her cool, gentle palette and soft-edged, highly textured paintings.   At the same time, the llamas very expressive faces and careful positioning reinforce on every page that this is, above all, a story about the tenderness of that mother/child relationship---Little Llamas actions, however dramatic, are secondary.  Most importantly, though, Dewdney creates empathy for whiny, cart-crashing Little Llama by showing us what a big box store looks and feels like to a small child.  The endpapers, for example, offers a collage of so many overlaid "Sale!!" signs that they make even an adult's head spin.  The third spread depicts the experience of waiting on line from a child's visual perspective.  The four adult figures on the page are seen only from the waist down, and their bodies fill the borderless page, enough so as to crowd Little Llama out.

I have heard parents complain that this book "does not teach a good lesson" about proper behavior---because Little Llama isn't punished for his outburst and in fact gets a treat at the end---but it's not supposed to.   Instead, it not only invites adults to see this everyday experience through a child's eyes but reminds us all how good it feels to forgive and to be forgiven, to understand and to be understood, and to be loved when we are least lovable, over and over again.

Miss E's Read:  She says that her favorite page is the last one, where Llama and Mama walk hand in hand eating ice cream cones:  "Because it makes me hungry for ice cream.  Pleeeeeeease!!!"

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