{book} the little bit scary people

on

Day: 04

the little bit scary people

by Emily Jenkins, Illustrated by Alexandra Boiger

Hyperion Books, 2008. ages 3-6.

I had a stack of picture books to read while snuggling into my sweater out-of-doors at a local café. Leaves were on the ground, neighborhood chihuahuas had their jackets, cyclists had their scarves, and there air bit everyone anyway. It was an ideal setting for the little bit scary people…and not because the locals were all the scary [today]. The picture book’s urban setting is autumn with colors moving toward winter.

Some people are a little big strange, or a little too loud, or a tiny bit mean. Some people are just a little bit scary. But I bet if you knew them—if you know what they like for breakfast, and how they treat their pets, and how they sing along to show tunes or read cowboy stories on the couch—then you’d know that maybe (probably) most people aren’t so scary after all. –jacket copy

I love that cover. And I love that our sassy-red-head of a girl isn’t the fearless type most of her coloring get cast as. Not that she is the only one shown “a little bit scared” by some of the people she encounters. The charm, of course, is that she imagines them in a better light—literally. Illustrator Alexandra Boiger tightens the focus (w/ a mild claustrophobic sense) and withholds full-color treatment for the “little bit scary” scenes; which is highly noticeable in affect with the next image having color from edge of page to edge, vibrant and full of life. The world is bigger, there is more than that first encounter. Every illustration is brimming with movement, detail, and emotional energy—which should be a given in picture books, but Boiger’s ability here should not go without saying. Nor should Emily Jenkin’s playful and marvelously translated imagination.The little bit scary people is fun to look at, and it is just flat-out fun to read.

For every “little bit scary” person in situation she encounters, our nameless protagonist “bets” there is another situation in which they are less scary. The “scary” scenario follows with an illustrated scene in which our protagonist is observing that different side—sweet and kind and fun sides. At first it is an “I bet” born of her imagination. Then the language shifts near the end to “I know” because she happens to personally know some “little bit scary” people, and they really are quite wonderful. I adore this turn because we know people who are/were a “little bit scary.”

The girl’s encounters encompass her diversely populated community: the neighborhood, the city bus driver, teacher, lunch lady, “the girl in my science class [who] eats bits of her pencil and mutters to herself as if no one was listening.” Each accompany a fabulous image of an impending disaster as individual as the person and encounter themselves and you are reminded that the person alone isn’t necessarily scary, there are things compounding the interactions. In another setting they might be really very normal or super-exciting and have fulfilling lives that affect others (including pets) in positive ways.

Jenkins draws the reader into a fun conclusion that does not preclude the fact that there are scary people—only much fewer than we think. Jenkins maintains a positive upbeat feel—holding that memory of the delightful imagination and the graciousness the little girl exhibits. the little bit scary people inspire one to try thinking about people a little differently—and in a good way. I bet you find the optimism and the imagination infectious.

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{all images belong to Alexandra Boiger as found on Emily Jenkin’s site}

see Shelf Elf’s wonderful review of Emily Jenkins Lemonade in Winter which put Jenkins on my radar.

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