Fuse #8

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Review of the Day: It's a Bad Day

I run a homeschooler bookgroup containing roughly six to ten kids, all between the ages of eight and twelve. Child bookgroups are funny things too. Through my own I discovered that nine times out of ten, the reason my kids choose one book over another is due in large part to the cover artist. Heck, sometimes when we’ve run out of things to say about the book the kids will start discussing intently the cover illustrations and whether they correctly described the book inside. And what cover artist has gained more attention to his covers due to his work on books like Deb Gliori’s, “Pure Dead Magic” or Wendy Orr’s, “Nim’s Island”? None other than good old Glin Dibley of Huntington Beach, California. You can imagine my delight then when I discovered that Mr. Dibley had recently illustrated a picture book written by one Mary Ellen Friday entitled, “It’s a Bad Day”. Taking its cues from that old classic standby, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”, this is another encapsulation of what can make a day go drab. Credit Dibley then with livening it up in his own particular way.

Open the book and there, staring at you with the resigned expression of a boy who knows his days are numbered, sits a fork-holding kid in front of a plate reading, “It’s a Bad Day”, the word “bad” made entirely out of squishy green brussels sprouts. The book is, in turn, filled with those moments in a child’s life that mean that things are just not going well. For the image accompanying, “It’s a bad day ... when you get chicken pox and can’t go to the party”, a kid with vibrant red dots stares hopelessly at a couple party-hat wearing goofballs yukking it up just next door. “It’s a bad day ... when the tattoo you got as a prize comes off in the bath water”, shows a kid staring in sudden horror at the rapidly dissolving green imprint on his arm. Twelve bad situations of varying significance pepper the book until at last we are reassured, “It was a bad day ... But hey, I’m okay. And tomorrow is another day.” I'm partial to the simplicity of that statement.

There’s nothing particularly surprising about the story itself. As mentioned before, it bears some similarities to the Judith Viorst picture book of so many years ago. And I was a little perplexed to see, “It’s a bad day ... when you have to eat Brussels sprouts before you can have dessert”, since it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the book. I mean, is there ever a situation where a kid gets to eat their sprouts after dessert? Unlike the other situations, this one’s less an aberration in a child's day and more the norm. I will say this, though. Not since “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”, have brussels sprouts been reproduced in such disgusting slimy-green wonder. That’s what’s so great about Mr. Dibley. He goes the extra mile. When we come to the phrase, “It’s a bad day ... when the tree eats your airplane”, we not only see a kid staring up at a paper airplane in a tree, but one of his shoes (thrown to upend it, I assume) sits perched at the opposite end of the branch. The boy is looking up in his stocking feet as his second shoe is in his hand, mere moments from also thrown and, presumably, lost. Dibley has an eye for details that most illustrators would eschew. When we see the accompanying picture to, “It’s a bad day ... when the skateboard gets away”, Dibley has effused the underside of the escaping object with this rather beautiful mix of greens, purples, and blues in a kind of almost iridescent pattern. Wallpaper is consistently realistic and suburban-awful, and the artist cleverly distinguishes between his minutely detailed characters and the sometimes merely outlined objects around them.

Love the endpapers, by the way. They’re a kind of blue-patterned fabric as you might find on your grandmother’s faded couch. Mr. Dibley has taken this simple series of situations and has placed each and every one in the misleading comfort of middle-American suburbia. The result are vignettes that will strike close to home for some and will simply be amusing for others. A fun, colorful book that’s an excellent introduction to Glin Dibley for those of you unlucky enough not to have seen his work thus far in your lives.

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