Review of the Day: Silly Suzy Goose
Sweet impossible to understand grammar.
Today I review a book that has a million charms and a single (if repeating) flaw. I hate to do this to it, but "Silly Suzy Goose" hurt my feelings. How dare they publish such a sweet story with such a glaring problem? Bad show, Candlewick. Bad show.
It's funny to think that the editors of books are rarely credited in the book itself. Unless a given author feels like crediting their editor, that person remains anonymous, for good or for ill. I say all this because if there was one thing "Silly Suzy Goose" needed, it was an editor. A delightful concept alongside adorable illustrations, the book suffers from an overwhelming and repeating grammatical error. The result? Tons of grammar-happy teachers, librarians, parents, and relatives will flip through its pages and find they just can't stomach the incorrect use of the word "was". I wanted to loved "Silly Suzy Goose". It has a cute-as-a-button concept and would have been a perfect storytime readaloud. Poor editing, however, delegates it to the "ehh" pile. A serious pity.
There are plenty of geese in the world, and they all look mighty similar to Suzy. One day, Suzy gets it into her head that she'd like to be a little different. With that in mind, she sets out to observe a variety of different animals and mimic them. Says Suzy, "If I was a toucan, I could make a loud SQAWK", or, "If I was an elephant, I could splish and SPLASH". She compares herself to a great many animals until she sees a lion. Not willing to leave well enough alone when her "RROARRHONK" fails to get the great beast's attention, Suzy disturbs the lion's sleep and finds herself pursued. She makes it all the way back to the other geese using the sounds and moves she learned from the other animals. Once amongst them, the lion can't figure out which one is Suzy. The goose briefly ponders whether it is actually better to be just like everyone else. Then, once the lion's gone, lets loose with a mighty, "Rroarrhonk!", proving that being the same is nice sometimes, "but not always".
Author/illustrator Petr Horacek hails originally from the Czech Republic. Now the only other artist I can think of to claim any association with that region is the internationally acclaimed Peter Sis. You could hardly find art any MORE different than Horacek's is from Sis'. Where Sis is all tiny dots and miniscule text, Horacek revels in big bold colors and simple words. His board books until now (like "Bird, Fly High" and "Run, Mouse, Run!") are delightful little exercises in misleadingly simple stories. In the case of "Silly Suzy Goose", he's gone all out art-wise. The bright orange endpapers, all slashes and bold strokes of color, are some of the loveliest I've ever had a chance to see. In this book he's employed some pretty fancy dancy mixed-media as well. Suzy is simultaneously clumsy and adorable. Whether she's riding on the back of a particularly lovely ostrich or hanging upside down with a bat, she just looks like she's have a fantastic time. Plus the book's large font and simple type makes it ideal for kids who are learning to read on their own. How could any cold-hearted monster of a reviewer find anything to object to?
Let's talk grammar. More specifically, the lack thereof. The repeated phrase in this book is, "If I was a [enter animal here] I could [enter action here]". If I "was"??? I'm about to get all grammar-policeish here, so you may wish to take a step back. Why on earth say "was" instead of "were"? Think about it. Topol did not sing, "If I Was a Rich man", in Fiddler On the Roof. Tim Hardin didn't come up with the song, "If I Was a Carpenter". At first I thought that perhaps this was a matter of poor translation. Horacek's native language is not, after all, English. Maybe he's just suffering at the hands of a lazy translator. Unfortunately a quick scan of the publication page reveals that no such translator exists. Okay, fine. He obviously wrote the book himself and flubbed a bit of odd English phrasing. It could've happened to anyone. Anyone, that is, who didn't have an editor who's very JOB was to catch this sort of thing. So why did the editor let this one go, thereby assuring that libraries and parents would buy it in limited numbers? It must have come down as a creative decision. Candlewick Press is hardly a small time publisher. Still, was there any debate over this questionable choice of phrasing? We may never know. Just wonder what could have been instead.
None of this is to say the book isn't cute. I was determined to love and adore it and praise its name unto the heavens when I flipped through its mighty pretty pages. If I'd been a lazy reviewer and just scanned the text rather than read it myself, I might have given it an unequivocal thumbs up. There will certainly be parents and customers who read my review with a slight sneer and laugh at what they deem my overly concerned problem with the language. Here's the deal though, folks. There's a world of different between the bad grammar your child gets from the average Cookie Monster segment on Sesame Street and the poor use of "was" here. It may only be a tiny fly in the ointment, but because of an editorial decision, "Silly Suzy Goose" may find itself on less Best Books lists than it would have deserved with a strategically placed "were" here and there. Still a lovely title. Just a frustrating one.