There is no accounting for taste, and my taste and GirlChild’s do not match up on this book! That said, GirlChild has made us read this book at least six times (often in rapid succession) since we checked it out three days ago, and it gave me a good idea besides, so I’m going to go ahead and review it.
Mrs. Chameleon and Her Chair, by Marsha Barrow, illustrated by Tammi Brey
(2000, SandBox Books)
Mrs. Chameleon is a third grade teacher at Reptilia Elementary, and her cozy rocking chair has some chameleon-like qualities of its own. The first week of school, a different student visits the special chair each day with colorful results as varied as the moods they bring to school with them.
The idea behind this book is actually very cute: The chair is a kind of time-out chair that changes color according to the occupants’ moods or emotions, and when they’ve calmed down or gotten control of themselves, the chair returns to its original shade of blue. In this way, it’s a great vehicle for discussing feelings and the colors that are sometimes associated with them (and also the use of a comfy chair in which to calm down!). However, the book has a bit of a self-published feel, partially because of the Comic Sans font and centering of all the text. (It might actually be self-published; I can’t find information about the listed publisher online, and the only mentions of the book I can find seem to be written by the author herself and make no reference to the publisher.) There are some awkward tense changes on one of the pages (there are just fourteen containing text), and I cringed about the fact that the sad episode was a student’s cat getting run over by a car before school and that a wild student vomited (not illustrated, thankfully!) when confronted with the psychedelic colors his emotions produced in the chair; both seemed a little over-the-top for a fun, fluffy book like this one. The book also lacks a satisfying ending; the narrator is the final occupant of the chair and simply introduces herself (perhaps to explain the color of the chair—pink for Pinky Pinkerton) and says she’ll see the reader at school tomorrow. I wish the author had been able to develop this book a little more because it could have been significantly more marketable with some good editorial tweaks.
I have the feeling that the reason we were able to find this book in our library is because the illustrator is local. The full-page illustrations appear to be done in vivid colored pencil, and more than half of the images show a close-up view of a reptilian student sitting in the chair which fits the text well. The illustrator uses facial expressions and some thought bubbles to show the mood or emotion of the occupant, and the background is relatively detailed and fills the pages to the very edge. My biggest concern with the illustrations is that they are not integrated into the text pages at all; you get a full-page illustration, then a page with a basic border and a short chunk of text, again lending the impression of a self-published work.
GirlChild’s reactions: GirlChild is incomprehensibly enamored by this book. Yes, it’s a cute book, so there’s nothing to dislike about it per se…but her seemingly insatiable desire to read it over and over doesn’t quite seem warranted! The only other books I can remember getting a similar response from her (and even then, not usually multiple reads in a row!) are her Kevin Henkes books about holiday treats, Owen’s Marshmallow Chick and Lilly’s Chocolate Heart, both of which she has memorized. I have to say this, though: if a child loves it, then it’s a good book, so this must be a good book. Sadly, I believe it’s out of print, so she’ll have to live with checking it out of the library from time to time.
The idea it gave me is actually not a new idea at all, just new to me in my current situation. When I was a teacher, I frequently had students write and illustrate stories of their own which we then “published” into a class book that we kept in the classroom library. I mostly taught fifth grade, however, and having my three-year-old do the same thing here at home never crossed my mind. Her vast love for this book makes me think that I might be able to convince her to create a simple story (with my help, of course, since she can’t write much beyond our family’s names) and make drawings to go with it to make a little book, maybe a little book she can read to BoyChild. (Reader shellesplayschool’s blog had some napkin books at Halloween that helped form this thought for me, too!) I’ll just try to avoid the Comic Sans font when I type it up…
Note: Your library is not likely to have this book, and it’s not available on Amazon, either. However, you can ask your librarian to help you find books featuring local artists or authors if that’s interesting to you and your child, or you can use any simple story (like the Kevin Henkes books I mentioned) as encouragement for even a very young child to create an illustrated story of his or her very own.