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30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Eight: Chloe

by Peter McCarty

Balzer+Bray, 2012

chloe coverChloe has ten older brothers and sisters and ten younger brothers and sisters. She’s in the middle and she loves it—especially when they all gather for family fun time.

But when Dad brings home a surprise one evening, Chloe finds she is not in the middle anymore . . . but not for long!

With gorgeous colored-ink drawings and funny, spare text, Peter McCarty tells a winning story of family, imagination, and love.—Publisher’s Comments

If you thought for at least a moment that “the not for long” meant Chloe would be dealing with a new sibling or cousin or someone–you were mistaken. No, the surprise Dad brings home is–ta-da!–a television!

chloe

So, what does the arrival of the television have to do with Chloe being the middle child? Are we to be sad she is no longer the center of attention and/or the go-to girl for stellar ideas for familial “fun-time” activities? I think the story is supposed to be about how television-watching affects family fun-time. Chloe certainly disapproves. She and Bridget would rather sulk behind the couch–that is, until she and Bridget block the television and declare: “This is the worst family fun time EVER!” Apparently, watching giant pound cakes threatening the city is not a gratifying family activity.

“Bridget and I know how to have fun,” Chloe continues to proclaim on the next page while Bridget discovers: “What was this? What did Bridget find in the box?” gee–it isn’t hard to guess since the only image on the white expanse involves a large open box with bubble wrap. Clearly this is a picture books for our youngest children, because need the text actually ask these questions? It is doing well enough with cute bunny illustrations and spare text.

Bubble wrap becomes the thing to do, except when the Parents want to actually hear the television. So Chloe comes up with a quieter activity: become actors in the television box. She is all about the found object and the imaginative play–and being in the middle. “Everyone wanted to be with Chloe,” the story says–literally and figuratively.

chloe in the middle

It is soon bedtime, brother Bobby expresses his delight over the evening activities (sans mention of the television) to Chloe (and Bridget), and then all the girls are piled asleep in bed around…you guessed it.  I was too nauseated by this point to find that quaint ending with the father and the bubble wrap worth the chuckle it intends. Since the story is not told from a first-bunny perspective, I am not entirely sure what to do with the egocentrism. [Was/am I, as a middle-ish child this pretentious/annoying? Is that the lesson in the book? Like witnessing the spectacle of a someone else’s temper-tantrum, am I to identify myself, cringe in horror, and change my ways?]

Chloe saves the family fun-time from the evil television and rescues her position in the family thanks to her imagination and persistent need to be Chloe in the middle. The weird thing about the book is how the heroism of the imagination competes with the heroism of triumphing over the attention-stealing competition. In that contest, I would judge the latter to win.

The color-ink drawings are charming and fresh against the white page. I also get, as the publisher’s comments observe, how the story is one of family and imagination, but I am still working on the “love” part. I found Robin Smith for The Horn Book had a different reading, which I am having a hard time reconciling to my own experience. Do check it out. I would recommend that if you are really taken with the illustrations, mute the text and have a go with the visual narrative.

If you are looking for a book about family time and the struggles w/ technology, I recommend John Rocco’s Blackout as one. feel free to list more in the comments.

{images belong to Peter McCarty}

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