Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie: Van Allsburg’s Newest Addition to Child Lit

“I guess I would hope the kids would read it and say, ‘I’m gonna be the best care giver ever’… if I could create that kind ambition and child when they want to get the little animal, then that would be a success.” -Chris Van Allsburg

Renowned children’s book author and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg’s crowded children book shelves everywhere this week with his newest title, The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie. With stories that have anchored themselves within parents and even grandparents’ memories of childhood, it seems that Van Allsburg’s assortment of didactic messages continue to carry on into contemporary children’s literature.  Jumanji teaches readers that quiet activities may be ok sometimes. The Polar Express may suggest children enjoy the imaginative world that exists in childhood alone. The Sweetest Fig might show readers how crucial kindness is in order to have a good life. And if you hadn’t noticed, all Van Allsburg’s books have a bull terrier dog hidden somewhere within its pages; this is a clever touch that started with his first book and won’t be left behind (find out the story here).

The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie is Mr. Van Allsburg’s newest addition and has a new look to the classic Van Allsburg style. The illustrations are full color, with a much more simplistic sketching style than other Van Allsburg books. The story itself holds true to the Chris Van Allsburg learn-a-lesson style readers may be more used to, and still also including the usually indirect messages that takes a few readings to truly grasp sometimes hidden within the illustrations.

Since the story is from the point-of-view of a sad/melodramatic/depressed/jaded hamster that longs for a better life, it's companions similar aspects to Van Allsburg’s previous stories like The Sweetest Fig and Two Bad Ants told from the animal’s side. Told through the perspective of a small animal, it gives an interesting look into what kid humans look like but without the judgment of the adult voice and maybe helps children learn that small creatures need to be carefully cared for.

However, it seems particular that many grown up readers that have been commenting on this book, on popular review websites, seem to be disappointed with Van Allsburg’s latest work. And when considering the history Van Allsburg has created through his style as author/illustrator, it’s understandable that the same presentation his children’s books are sought after.

However, when reading The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie over a second time small details in the illustrations begin to emerge, like so many of his other books. On the first page a girl with orange hair rides her bike with a cage mounted to the back of her bicycle. The colors are bright and bold and complement each other so well, without being too colorful and obtrusive. Digitally this book looks animated. Looking back to the first page’s illustration which originally might have appeared as a simple picture of a girl riding her bike, the page comes to life with small details that allow the story of an overlooked hamster to become sentimental and emotionally evoking. Even though the children’s neglect seems unintentional, through the images it becomes more obvious that they treat Sweetie Pie more like a toy that an animal. The colors match the unhappiness that the story will unfold, allowing the color of the hamster to blend into the background perhaps in a metaphorical way.

To take it for what it is, the newish style of illustrations maybe refreshing from the classic black and white illustrations that are so predominant to Van Allsburg’s books. It seems that no one remembers the difference in style that Two Bad Ants had. Similarly, Two Bad Ants holds darker tones of color and lines for creating a depth effect.  The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie, maybe Allsburg’s most simplified appearing illustrations, still look great and hold that unveiling feel the more one stares at it.  However, even more interestingly the illustrations look great on an iPad or laptop. Whether or not the book was created with the intention of creating the Van Allsburg-esc images on a screen, it seems worth noting that children authors should take this into consideration since it may be the way of the future. 

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