Review of the Day: Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi
There is no accident so small that a forward thinking six-year-old can’t turn it into World War III.
You see, there are certain things they won’t tell you when you prepare to become a parent. They’ll conveniently fail to mention the sheer amount of personal injury you’ll endure when your children treat your body like a playground 24/7. They’ll decline to say how the decibel level in your home will reach previously unattainable heights. And most important of all, they won’t give you the 411 on knowing what to do when your child looks upon a small accident/tear/rip/broken banana and declares to you that the world, as we know it, has come to an end. Telling the child that they are mistaken in this belief has 0% of a chance of changing their mind. Trust me. I know. The best you can do is to try to remedy the situation, inevitably with mixed results. A number of recent picture books over the last few years have attempted to show kids the use and beauty of mistakes (Ish by Peter Reynolds, The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, etc.) but that’s a little different from what I’m talking about here. I think there’s room enough in this world for books that show actual mistakes (not “opportunities”) and stress the value in owning up to them and making good. After all, in this day and age there are plenty of adults out there that could learn that lesson for themselves.
Lola is doing handstands. Lola is doing cartwheels. Lola is not looking where she is going. As a result, a large pitcher of a bright orange liquid has been knocked from its precarious perch onto a pure white chair. Panicked, Lola comes to the lightning fast decision to run away to the library. She’ll just hole up there until she’s a grown-up and all of this has been forgotten. Yet as Lola runs she sees more and more animals making “fiascos”, “spills”, “slips” and general “mayhem” all around. And when Lola discovers that the library is not the oasis of calm and quiet she had hoped for, she and everyone else must name their deeds for what they are and find a way to make good.
First and foremost let’s just own up to the elephant in the room. Andrea Tsurumi is a latter day Tove Jansson. For example, in Lola, our heroine, I see more than a speck of Sniff. And like Jansson and her long-lasting Moomins, Tsurumi utilizes a precise use of pen-and-ink (or “graphite on Bristol vellum” aided and abetted by digital color, if you want to be precise). It is not the only weapon in Tsurumi’s arsenal, and if you’ve an interest in investigating a rabbit hole I highly recommend plunging headfirst in the artist’s website and blog for a couple spare hours. In fact, I was very grateful to her for clarifying that Lola is not, as I would have at first assumed, a pangolin but is rather an armadillo. As for the colors in the story, it’s a strategically limited palette. Green, blue, gray, coral, yellow, and red vie for attention but hardly stray out of the confines of these hues. It’s nice. Even if the book is chaotic there’s something constrained and orderly at work here to keep everything from falling apart.
To enjoy this book fully it is good to have a fine eye for meticulously crafted chaos. That, apparently, is Ms. Tsurumi’s specialty and we can all sit glad in the knowledge that she found her calling as soon as she did. Some of the greatest picture book illustrators of all time have known how to corral chaos. Dr. Seuss. Mark Allan Stamaty. Of course the godfather of the unrepentant cacophony of confusion is undeniably Richard Scarry. I refer you to A Day at the Fire Station for the most extreme example, but even his tamer fare always contained some stray element of bedlam. To this list we add Andrea Tsurumi readily.
What Tsurumi does so well is overwhelm the small reader with detail. A certain strain of child rises to the challenge when an illustrator like this asks them to locate every single example of mistakes on a page. Part of what I enjoyed so much about the book, though, was the way in which Tsurumi builds the action. The mistakes start small at the start and then multiply in numbers. Some are great and grand and obvious, involving broken chinaware and falling bookshelves. Others are so slight and small you could miss them if you blinked. One personal favorite involves a bear serving a chicken an egg, only realizing too late what she has done. There are also some callbacks in the final clean-up scene. There you’ll see that the toucan that wet himself earlier is wearing new pants, the bull in the china shop has attempted to tape together a vase (complete with apologetic flower), and even the goose that gave a horse a wrong haircut has made it work in some manner. Popped balloons have been exchanged for pinwheels, smooshed cakes for cupcakes, and all is well and right with the world.
The sole critique I might have about the book is the choice to give the book some kind of narration. It’s a superfluous choice. You can get the entire storyline from the dialogue and lose very little. Admittedly, I liked it when I ran across sentences like “So Lola ran away from her mess and right into everyone else’s” but as pleasant as that sounds, it’s unnecessary to the story. I wonder if Tsurumi originally wrote the book without the extra words and was encouraged to add them later, or if they were a part of the text from the start. They don’t detract, so this book remains one of my favorites of the year, but it does make for curious reading.
There’s an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (scoff not – that stuff works) where the topic of making mistakes was addressed. The advice from the show was for folks to apologize and then ask, “How can I make it better?” This book covers very much the same ground, just in a different manner. When we own up and take responsibility for our actions, words, and deeds, only then can we begin to make amends. Heady stuff for a book this whimsical and downright funny, but there you are. A delight from start to finish with a message worth considering, kids and parents alike will get a lot out of what Tsurumi’s serving here. A classic in the making.
On shelves October 3rd.
Misc: Maybe you can clarify one final element of the book for me. A friend who read this story is convinced that in one scene Tsurumi is making a definitive reference to J.D. Salinger’s A Perfect Day for Bananafish with an image that shows a fish as looking to be both at once. I think this may be a bit of a stretch, but I love the idea of a picture book referencing Salinger, so I include it here.
Like This? Then Try:
- Petey and Pru and the Hullaballoo by Ammi-Joan Paquette
- Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Allan Stamaty
- Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry
- Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss
Misc: Read Tsurumi’s explanation of how she came up with this book’s cover image here.
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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