________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Black-and-White Blanche.

Marj Toews. Illustrated by Dianna Bonder. Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2006.
32 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 1-55041-132-6.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4

Reviewed from f&g's.


Young Blanche Weatherspoon longed for a pink dress more than anything in the world. But nothing could be more out of reach. Everyone, but everyone, in the household wore only black and white…

In Victorian times, many loyal subjects followed the regal example of Queen Victoria and limited their fashions to black clothing. So it is with the Weatherspoon household where Mr. and Mrs. Weatherspoon deny themselves, their children, and their hired help of anything other than black and white clothing. Indeed, even the family pet, the poodle, Boodles, is white and wears a black collar (and has a black nose).

internal art

     Young Blanche Weatherspoon, however, would like nothing more than to instil some colour into her life. As her birthday approaches, she dreams of a pink dress. Alas, upon opening her presents, Blanche discovers she has received three white petticoats, two pairs of black stockings, and one pair of black boots.

     Blanche has a flower-seller friend named Felicity. Not for Felicity the drab black clothing of Queen Victoria. Felicity is always regaled in clothing as bright and colourful as the flowers she sells. When Felicity gives Blanche a pink dress, the Weatherspoon house is in uproar. “Pink will never be worn in this house,” sputters Mr. Weatherspoon. When her pink dress is thrown into the garbage, Blanche runs away from home and into the consoling arms of Felicity.

     When the Weatherspoons eventually locate their daughter, they are thankful to Felicity for protecting Blanche from harm. Feeling contrite, Mr. Weatherspoon buys all of Felicity's flowers so that she might go home early.

     Adorned with all of Felicity's flowers, the Weatherspoon house looks lovely. Soon, colour beings to appear in the Weatherspoon clothing. People start to smile as they have never smiled before, and home becomes a happy place.

     Marj Toews has crafted an enjoyable, pleasant story. Her writing is descriptive, and she tells her tale in a fun, yet informative manner. The mood of the book undergoes an interesting transformation consistent with the transformation that takes place in the Weatherspoon family, changing from a somber, almost claustrophobic, sense in the early stages of the book, through to an energetic, bright and cheerful mood by book's end. This mood transformation is further facilitated through the artwork of Dianna Bonder. Her plentiful playful illustrations extend the text by augmenting the words with lots of additional detail.

     One of the interesting aspects of this book is the design and layout. I count over fifty separate illustrations in the book. They range from full, double-page spreads, to much smaller pictures, small enough to fit as many as seven on a single page. Where there are several illustrations spread across single pages or double-page spreads, text is inserted underneath, above or beside each individual illustration. As such, it makes for an interesting reading experience in that the narrative text does not adhere to the traditional, left to right, top to bottom format. For some readers, this might prove a point of confusion and contribute to some sense of disequilibrium as the child tries to navigate through the text. On the other hand, however, this is a good example of a non-linear text not dissimilar to the type of reading that today's students are doing when they read from the Internet. Digital texts require readers to navigate in all sorts of non-linear patterns. It may well be that a book such as this is a useful teaching tool for introductory instruction for children first encountering the Internet. Indeed, because of the pervasive influence of digital texts, it may also be that today's children will have less trouble with the text than I imagine.

     The artwork appears rendered in pencils and watercolours. I really enjoy the illustrations, although there were occasions where I experienced some difficulty discerning one character from another. This problem was brought to my attention when I read the story with my three-year-old daughter. She kept asking which character was which. Given that the Weatherspoon household contains nine people (and the dog, Boodles), it is, for a picture book, a lot of characters to keep straight. This is especially so given that there are other significant characters, like Felicity, who reside outside the Weatherspoon household. Given that my daughter is only three and is, therefore, outside the intended audience for this book, this problem would not have been an issue except that, when she asked me which character was which, I was often unable to tell her. Some characters' appearances are confusingly similar. The drawings of Mrs. Weatherspoon and the housekeeper, Mrs. Black, were occasionally confusing. This is also true of the nanny, Mrs. Blinkers, the laundry maid, Buttons, and the flower-seller, Felicity. With deliberation, the characters are certainly discernable. On first reading, however, I must confess to encountering difficulties keeping the characters straight.

     Despite this problem, the book is well done and, indeed, the illustrations are a strength.

     This is a well-written, fun story, featuring attractive artwork.


Gregory Bryan likes to wear black and red in support of his beloved Australian football team. He despises the black and white Collingwood Magpies and wonders whether the portly Blanche might, indeed, make their team!

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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