CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 9 . . . . January 4, 2002
Originally appearing as wordless board books a decade ago, Reid's "season" quartet has been republished, this time with a most brief text. This collective of award-winning books, with their plasticine illustrations involving the red-headed toddler, Zoe, has become a contemporary "classic," one that truly belongs on the book shelves of all children first coming to books and illustration.
Each book, consisting of four double-page spreads, deals with a single day that is representative of a season, and each opens with the question, "Where is Zoe going?" The brief, cyclical "plots" see Zoe venturing forth to experience aspects of the wider world before returning to the comforting safety of her home. Zoe's Snowy Day has her being pulled by her father on a sled past a snow-covered sliding hill and a skating rink before snuggling up in her bed that night. Zoe's Rainy Day is a time to don orange rubber boots and a yellow rain hat and coat. After walking through the community in the rain with her mother and playing in muddy puddles, Zoe enjoys a warm bath. Zoe's Summer Day takes her to the park where she and her mother have a picnic and Zoe gets to play in the wading pool. Although an exuberant Zoe had run ahead of her stroller-pushing mother on the way to the playground, an obviously exhausted Zoe rides home. It is father who takes Zoe to the park in Zoe's Windy Day, and it is he who later shares hot chocolate with her at home. All of the books' happenings are simple, familiar experiences which could be replicated by young viewer-readers and their parents.
As the books were originally wordless, the illustrations had to carry the stories. Reid has succeeded superbly, and she has done so in a manner in which repeated "readings" do not diminish the books' contents but only reveal something, often a small detail, previously overlooked. What is truly amazing is how Reid's use of plasticine captures the "moods" of the seasons. For example, the non-reading child would know immediately from the cover art of Zoe's Windy Day that it was truly a gusty day for the autumn leaves are flying about, the dandelion stalks are bending in the wind, and the "parachute" seeds of the dandelion that a woolen sweater clad Zoe is holding are in flight, propelled by the wind.
Young eyes (and older ones, too) will delight in the small details that return visits to the books reveal. For instance, in Zoe's Summer Day, is that a tear in Zoe's eye in the illustration showing Zoe in her mother's arms in the park playground? Certainly Zoe's monkey doll's face, which often reflect's Zoe's mood, shows concern. Such a small detail opens up so many conversation possibilities between the child and adult who may be sharing the book with her/him.
Often, what is found on the back covers of books is ignored. Not to open these books so that the full spread of the cover illustrations, front and back, can be seen would be to lose the wonderful calico cat whose postures reflect the various seasons. Winter finds her rigidly and gingerly stepping over the snow; spring sees a most disgruntled cat, her coat rain-matted, making her way home; summer reveals her, belly-up, basking on a sun-warmed driveway; and in fall, she gambols about in pursuit of the blowing leaves.
While the addition of the brief text to these books does no harm, was it really necessary? The "stories" of wordless books are limited only by the child "reader's" imagination. Having words does suggest, at least to some, that there is a "right" interpretation. Nonetheless, the "Zoe" quartet, if not received as a gift at baby showers, remains a "must" purchase for parents who want to introduce their very young children to the world of imagination contained in books.
Dave Jenkinson, who teaches children's and YA lit. courses in the Faculty of Education, at the University of Manitoba, and identifies most with Zoe's Snowy Day, anticipates sharing Zoe with his soon-to-arrive third grandchild, who, because s/he will be born in Vancouver, may find more affinity with Zoe's Rainy Day.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.