Review of the Day: I Hate Everyone by Naomi Danis
Childhood is riddled with contradictions. Wait. No. Scrap that thought. Let’s rewrite it slightly. Childhood’s fine it’s the CHILDREN that are riddled with contradictions. In the same breath a child can scream that they hate you and yet want a hug so badly they shake with the need. New parents will often find themselves flummoxed with these contradictory instructions. You are to both leave the child alone and never leave them again. This starts to become noticeable in the kid around the age of three (never let them tell you it’s the “terrible twos” because the “threes” clearly cornered the market in awfulness) when your previously sunny bundle of delight starts exploding over the smallest imaginable grievances. On the one hand, you want to be the wise, all-knowing parent who calmly guides the child out of their screaming catfit. On the other hand, it’s hard to reason with illogic. Small children (and older ones as well, let’s admit it) have a hierarchy of needs that is entirely different from old Maslow’s. And maybe you want a picture book that acknowledges all of this. A picture book that isn’t afraid to name what it is that a child is thinking, feeling, needing, even if those three things are at complete odds with one another. I’ve never read a picture book like I Hate Everyone by Naomi Danis before and, I’ll level with you, it may not be for every parent out there. That said, it fills one of those great gaping gaps in the children’s picture book marketplace you didn’t even knew existed until you saw the book. Extra Bonus: It’s funny. Now how about that?
The little girl at her own birthday party is in, what could only kindly be described as, a mood. You know this mood. You have, perhaps, seen it firsthand. Everything irritates her, from the guests to the hats, to the singing and laughing and smiling. Repeatedly she assures her parents and everyone else that she hates them. As her litany of complaints increases she gives away some of the reasons why she might be so cranky. She’s tired. She’s hungry. But because she is so young she also gives away a lot of what she’s actually feeling. “Can you stay even if I hate you?” And finally, “Somehow even while I am busy hating you, at the same time, deep down, it’s hard to understand, and I hate to say it, but . . . I love you!” Hugs are bestowed and in a moment grand acquiescence she say, “Okay, go ahead. Sing.”
And I get it. I get why this book might be hard for some people. For parents that live on that other side of the looking glass mirror, picture books offer the balm of sanity where everything makes sense, parents guide children, children listen to parents, and life is well-ordered and logical. Picture books don’t offer just an escape for child listeners, but an escape for adult practitioners as well. The last thing that parent is going to want is a mirror of their own lives. And yet, the greatest humor comes from familiarity. If you’re a parent that just spent the last fifteen minutes explaining to your child why the animal cracker that is missing the tip of its tail is still edible in spite of this egregious error that could only occur in a cold universe in which there is no loving God, this book’s familiarity will comfort you by letting you know that you are not alone. And for kids, there’s that strange moment of both recognition and rejection. The girl in this book is like me, but I would NEVER be this bad. They can laugh at her foibles either in recognition or ignorance of their own, making the book ideal for both younger and older child readers.
However, I can’t go much further without addressing the elephant in the room. You know the one I mean. The H-word. It’s like the four-letter-word of the kingdom of children. Parents will go out of their way to teach kids right from the start that there is no situation in which this word is permissible. Do you happen to remember the Robie H. Harris book The Day Leon Said, “I Hate You!” and how controversial that book was in some circles? Like the word “stupid”, many parents honestly feel that by even saying this word in the presence of their children, they are legitimizing it for their kids. If it’s in a book then it has to be an okay thing to say, right? And I sympathize with this predicament. There is no all-encompassing answer. Not all parents feel this way, but many do, and for the ones that cringe every time they read the title of this book, I honestly have to say that it may not be for you. Now you can do the usual protective parental route of renaming it every time you read it to your kids. I’m reminded of parents that change Maurice Sendak’s book Pierre and the titular character’s catchphrase to “I care” throughout the text, or the well-meaning individuals that paint White-Out underpants on Mickey in In the Night Kitchen. You are the parent. What you want to do with your own kid is your business. But, likewise, not every parent is going to find the word “Hate” objectionable and for some of them that already have kids screaming it every other sentence, this book could actually do quite a lot of good. For others, it’s just going to be another funny book for their shelves. Total parent call here.
But why even use the word “hate” at all? Because that is one of the few words a child can use to exercise what little power they have. They are these tiny beings being told what to do every moment of the day. Initially, they discover that their power can come through refusing to eat. You can fight being dressed or changed, but grown-ups are stronger than you are. Eating, however, isn’t something someone can make you do. Then, later, they acquire language and with it a new kind of power. Now they are capable of making their parents feel one way or another through words alone. Can you imagine what that kind of a discovery must feel like to a child for the first time? And really “hate” is the uzi in their arsenal. Even “stupid” can’t hold a candle to it. Danis could have used another word in this book, but she went for the granddaddy of all little kid bad words. The toddler equivalent of swearing. The book simply doesn’t work without it, you have to admit.
I can’t imagine how hard this text must have been to write (let alone to edit). Because in many ways Danis has to tap into some essential core of child brattiness and a kind of need that you sympathize with (even if you have to dig a little deep to find that sympathy). Consider this great pair of lines: “I hate when the balloons pop. And I hate when you say stop popping the balloons.” The whole front of the book proceeds in that way. Contradictions that, on the surface, make no sense to adults and that, to kids, will strike some of them as kind of hilarious. Then Danis has to transition the story into something more than just a series of observations. The little girl’s fury, is so well put in sentences like, “You say I am perfect, I am just right. But I am not. I don’t feel just right. I feel like a fight.” Then, when people begin to do what she asks, she breaks down. “I hate you but I want you to love me.” This makes the final pages where she repeats over and over that she really does love “you” all the more poignant. It was probably hard to resist the urge to end the book on a joke after that. Some authors would have included a capper where something bad happens and the little girl goes right back to hating on everyone around her, but instead Danis lands the book with a nice, sweet moment that is come by honestly.
Recently a friend of mine wrote an opinion piece about why it is that we, as parents, always search for the “moral” in every picture book we read. Many of us find it incomprehensible that a picture book could even exist without some kind of instructional use. Viewed in that light, this book is bound to disappoint. The parents in this book are never seen taking the little girl to task over her actions. To be honest, they’re not really in the book much at all. And while she does correct her own behavior by the story’s end, she’s never punished in any way. Some would insist that the parents take the reigns here and model good behavior for . . . other parents I guess? Honestly, I think there’s a great deal of benefit to seeing a kid work through her own frustrations. Maybe her methods are poor (that whole drawing on the wall thing would certainly turn me into a screaming banshee if my kids tried to get away with it) but you can’t argue with that end result.
Man, I don’t envy the editor of this book. Imagine trying to think up the perfect artist to accompany this text. Realism could have been the way to go. Ditto complete cartoonish buffoonery. The selection of Cinta Arribas straddles that line a little bit in-between. Arribas hails from Madrid and in this book she makes the choice of limiting her color palette to an interesting mix of purple, red, pink, and blue. She also, thank the stars, has a sense of humor. My favorite two-page spread is undoubtedly the moment when the text reads, “Don’t look at me. No! Look at me!” In one image she is sitting with what appears to be a bowl of Cheetos on her lap. In the next the bowl is on her head, Cheetos scattered to the winds around her. Also, I don’t know the degree to which Arribas is aware of how controversial the word “hate” is in picture books, but I suspect she may have an inkling, when you look at that moment when the girl says, “You say hate is not a nice word. I don’t feel nice.” She is, at that very moment, using the alphabet blocks to spell the word “HATE”. That’s just cheeky. Maybe it’s why Arribas was chosen for the project. She’s able to straddle that line between bratty and funny/sympathetic.
Interesting too to look at how she draws the people at the party. It is significant that at no point does any parent look cheesed off at the titular girl. That is not to say that her behavior goes unnoticed. When she wrests her stuffed bunny from the arms of an enamored baby, the infant is distinctly distressed (I should quickly add that she gives it back later in the book). But the parents, whose faces are only glimpsed in passing, are bestowed with this kind of beatific serenity in their actions that many of us would envy. Then there’s how Arribas sets the tone of the book, before you open it up. The choice of typeface and font, meant to look like handwriting, give it a more natural feeling than something that looked like it was spit out of a typewriter ever could.
Like I say, not for everyone, but isn’t that the case for a lot of great picture books out there? There are parents that worry about Where the Wild Things Are and get squeamish at Mr. Mallard’s deadbeat dad-i-tude in Make Way for Ducklings. Fortunately, the very title of this book chooses its own audience. Any parent with a knee-jerk reaction to the word “hate” is going to immediately avoid the book when they see it. And any parent curious to see how an author and illustrator can verbalize what, in many children, can only be expressed through frustrated fire and fury, will find in “I Hate Everyone” a balm and a friend they never knew they could have. Funny, quirky, brave, and strange, this little book takes its two tiny hands and furiously beats out a space for itself on your children’s bookshelves. Selective and snappy. What a pair.
On shelves now.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- Betty Loves Bananas by Steve Anthony
- The Day Leon Said, “I Hate You!” by Robie H. Harris
- No, David! by David Shannon
Professional Reviews: So I don’t usually quote the professional reviewers in my own (chalk that one up to jealousy) but I could not resist quoting to you this New York Times pull quote by author Marisha Pessl:
“The book reads like a version of Whitman’s barbaric yawp. It’s wildly alive with the girl’s unchecked bursts of word and emotion. The way she grasps at and simultaneously rejects love, wanting to be both acknowledged and left alone, is universal and timeless. The book exposes the slipperiness of what we so much believe to be true coupled with the shortcomings of the English language — German comes off better with words like fernweh (wanting to be anywhere but where you are) and fuchsteufelswild (gutting rage). It ends with the exhausted admission, ‘Somehow even while I am busy hating you … I love you.’ Tolstoy was after this realization, too, and it took him 1,000 pages.”
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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