Monday, January 08, 2007

Edwina: The Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She Was Extinct



New(ish) from Mo Willems, a picture book about a modern-day dinosaur and a little boy set on proving that she doesn't exist. The little boy in this book has one of the best names ever: Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie. To say it aloud is to giggle. Particularly since a name like Reginald von Anything makes me want to try to read it in a stentorian butler voice, which makes it even funnier. And the Hoobie-Doobie bit sort of makes fun of Reginald and his presumed pedigree anyhow, I think. Mo Willems completely won my heart with this name, which is almost reason enough to read this book.

The plot is also almost reason enough to read the book. Plot summary? Edwina the dinosaur is one of the most popular creatures ever -- she plays with children, bakes excellent cookies, etc., etc. Reginald vHD resents this, because he has read a great many books and therefore knows that DINOSAURS ARE EXTINCT. He sets out to persuade his teacher and his classmates, all of whom are big Edwina fans.

Reginald falls into a funk because nobody will listen to him. "Nobody will listen to me," he says (or words to that effect, sorry, I don't have the text in front of me). But it turns out that someone will listen to him, and it's Edwina. She politely sits through his entire presentation on the fact that she is extinct. She even concedes his point. "She just didn't care. And, by then... neither did Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie." In the closing image, there's Edwina, baking cookies for Reginald.

But as a children's author, the true reason to read this book is to read a book by a writer who really, truly "gets" what it is to be a child. Mo Willems understands the concept of imagination and play better than many writers out there today. He gets that children who are perfectly aware that dinosaurs are no longer with us (not counting crocodiles and the like) are willing to play along and accept that they might. And that they might talk and do favors and play with children and bake excellent cookies. Because hey, who doesn't want a being like that to be real?

On a more serious level, through Reginald, Willems clearly expresses and illustrates the frustration that so many children feel about not being listened to properly, whether it's by their peers or by the important adults in their lives, including teachers. And Reginald is correct about dinosaurs being extinct, so he's not some boy crying "wolf", he's more "the Emperor's not wearing any clothes!" (Only nobody else is willing to listen.) Even as adults we feel this sometimes, only perhaps not as keenly as many children do. He also demonstrates the benefit that comes from hearing a child out. In this case, Edwina (filling the role of a caring adult) is shocked (and the visual on her dismay was excellent), but she concedes Reginald's point. She doesn't dwell on it, though, and Reginald's okay with that, much in the same way that a lot of children just want their thoughts to be heard and acknowledged, even if nothing really changes in response. As Kirkus noted, "The just-right resolution is a tribute to the child's rock-solid faith in how the world should be, not how it really is."

Bravo, Mr. Willems, my hat is off to you. Again.

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