Review: Rosie Revere, Engineer

rosie EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-7
Author: Andrea Beaty
Illustrator: David Roberts
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (published September 2013)
Pages: 32
ISBN-10: 1419708457
ISBN-13: 978-1419708459

Babies are born to fail, and they’re totally cool with it. Think about how many times they have to try to roll over before succeeding, how much flailing is required before crawling is achieved, and how many bumps on the bum take place before a toddler successfully toddles.

Somewhere along the way, though, that little baby will learn to fear failure. Somehow, trying mightily and failing has become a negative to us, something to be ashamed of.

And so it is for Rosie Revere, who once spent her days creating zany inventions for her uncles and aunts, including “a hot dog dispenser and helium pants” (wonderfully, and hilariously, illustrated by David Roberts). But after her uncle Zookeeper Fred laughed at the hat she invented to keep snakes off his head (“from parts of a fan and some cheddar cheese spray — / which everyone knows keeps the pythons away”), her embarrassment and shame makes her keep her dreams to herself, hiding her machines under the bed and feeling too shy to speak up in class. When Rosie’s great-great-aunt Rose (sharp-eyed readers will recognized an aged Rosie the Riveter) comes for a visit and tells Rosie of her dreams of flying, Rosie sets out to make a cheese-powered helicopter to make her auntie’s dream come true.

In a moment of genuine suspense, the heli-o-cheese-copter hovers briefly, then crashes — and with it, Rosie’s dreams take another nosedive. She’s done. She’ll never try again (and who among us has not had a moment or two like this?). Great-great-aunt Rose comes to the rescue, though, cheering her for her “perfect first try”: “‘Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! / Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!’ / She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere, / who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear. / Life might have its failures, but this was not it. / The only true failure can come if you quit.”

It may not be the most subtle message, but I think that’s a good thing. I think this is a message that needs to be hung in a frame on every child’s wall and written on the blackboard (or smartboard) at the start of every school day and handed out to every teenager upon graduation. Because, frankly, without the beautiful failures of children, there will be no magnificent achievements in the future. So grab a copy of Rosie Revere for the little girl, or boy, in your life who might be a future astrophysicist, bionanotechnician, or harpsichord and double-necked ukulele virtuoso. Because whatever else our kiddos need to do before they succeed, they’re going to need to do some failing first.


Review: Circus Girl


GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 4/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book
Ages: 3-6
Author and illustrator: Clare Pernice
Publisher: Simply Read Books (published April 2014)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 1927018366
ISBN-13: 978-1927018361

One kind of book I’m always searching for is picture books with strong, independent female protagonists. Girls who are following their dreams, girls who don’t need any help from boys to vanquish the dragon, girls who know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there, girls who are learning about themselves and the road they’re on. It’s an ongoing challenge, though there are a lot more books on the shelves with female heroes than there used to be. Parents need to be constantly vigilant, as we all keep discovering: a Barbie/Tinkerbell book my friend Belinda was reading her three girls contained this gem of a line: “I knew we would be best friends after a makeover” and another friend’s father-in-law gave their three-year-old a book about how “a pretty princess is neat and sweet.” If you don’t think these books are harming little girls’ self-image, or if you’re sure they are, I highly recommend you read Redifining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween by Melissa Atkins Wardy. Actually, you should read it regardless.

Anyway, when I was shopping for books for Little E’s birthday in the summer, I came across Circus Girl and bringing it home was a no-brainer. Subtitled “A Story of Make-Believe,” Circus Girl begins simply, with colourless sketch drawings and “a leotard / socks / and a girl.” The girl sets her stuffies and toys up as an audience and “to the sound of applause / the curtain goes up.” Colour floods the pages and “Tada! It’s CIRCUS GIRL / star of the show.” Circus Girl is “daring and dazzling and Oh! so dramatic”; she’s “courageous / stupendous / and completely outrageous.” In exuberant watercolours, she flies through the air on a trapeze, balances a tower of teacups on her head, and stands atop an elephant’s trunk. On the final page, we see Circus Girl, peacefully sleeping with the stuffed animals who inspired the animals in the circus. She is still Circus Girl, star of the show.

A spirited adventure through the imagination featuring a plucky girl following her dreams, Circus Girl is a heady jaunt with a girl who’s having fun, using her body and her strength, and being exactly who she wants to be.

Of course, it depicts animals in circuses, which is a whole other pile of terrible. But I can only fight one battle at a time here.