CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 32. . . .April 20, 2018
Kyo Maclear. Illustrated by Jay Fleck.
New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2018.
40 pp. hardcover, $23.50.
Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 3-7.
Review by Meredith Cleversey.
This is Flo. Flo is the littlest.
Today she is exploring the immense and mysterious sea.
Now that her journey is done, it's time to prepare for the day.
A good tune always helps.
The other pandas are already ready.
They have been waiting for a while.
Flo is the littlest panda in her family, and she likes to go at her own pace. While everyone else operates on a tight schedule, Flo flits from fancy to fancy, taking time to enjoy the day and not caring if she's late for one of the pandas' many scheduled events. When the rest of her family gets fed up with waiting for Flo, they set off on a boat trip without her. But when the boat gets stranded out at sea, they'll have to rely on Flo's whimsical ways to rescue them.
Flo, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Jay Fleck, is a story about the dangers of overscheduling children at the expense of their natural curiosity and explorative tendencies. Flo's family fills almost every day with activities, leaving little room for Flo to play. When the young panda takes too long to join the rest of the family—her attention drifting between butterflies, ducks, and a nearby marching band—the others leave Flo behind. But when they need to call on her fanciful creativity to rescue them, they learn that living life with a bit more leisure is a good thing.
Although the suggestion that children should be allowed the freedom to play and explore the world around them is fine, Flo is problematic in the way it presents its message. Flo is meant to be a free-spirit, but she could be perceived as lazy and careless. She leaves her family waiting and ignores their pleas for her to participate in their activities. The story's initial setup could have easily led into a cautionary tale about children being responsible for their actions and considerate of the feelings of others. Because the ultimate conclusion is meant to show Flo as the hero of the tale (with her family learning a lesson instead of her), the story is somewhat jarring, and the values it is trying to put forth are questionable since the protagonist is, arguably, in the wrong.
The plot of Flo is also a bit confusing. The family leaves Flo behind as they take a motorboat trip, and they need her to rescue them once their boat's engine stops working. However, this plot point doesn't actually have anything to do with the story's message—the boat breaking down has no connection to Flo's failure to join the family's trip. This could have been remedied by showing that the family—concerned as they are with keeping to their busy schedule—fails to take the time needed for a proper boat inspection. However, this is not how the events are presented, and, as such, it doesn't really make any sense why Flo's carefree attitude is the reason the family is saved. Likewise, the boating event supposedly teaches Flo's family a lesson, but it's not entirely clear what that lesson is. The pandas, realizing that Flo's slower pace is enjoyable, spend their Sunday lounging with her. However, earlier in the story, the reader is told that Sunday is the family's lazy day, which would suggest the pandas are not altering their plans, and do, in fact, already know how to relax (since they have a day set aside for being lazy each week).
Jay Fleck's illustrations are bubbly and cute, making this story visually appealing. Using simple backgrounds with vibrant touches of red and yellow, the images are a lot of fun to view and really help evoke a sense of carefree wonder. Flo's world is sunny and bright, and readers will have a good time watching her antics as she dances, marches, and gets "floppy".
Flo is a young panda who is sweet and curious about the world around her, and readers will enjoy seeing her creativity in action as she rescues her family from a dire situation. However, confusing characterization and a muddled plot make this story largely ineffective in conveying its intended message. For those interested in a fanciful tale, or for fans of Jay Fleck's illustrations, Flo will be an enjoyable read. But for those after a clearer story with a less ambiguous moral, this one might be worth a pass.
Recommended with Reservations.
Meredith Cleversey, a librarian in Cambridge, ON, loves to read, write, and live in a world of pure imagination.
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