Perhaps it is because my own little one just turned a year old and we have fully entered the babbling-almost-words phase, but something about this book just tickles my fancy. I had never heard of this one before, but the name Sophie Blackall is enough to make me pick up just about anything and give it a try. And what’s not to love about that sweet little guy in a striped one-piece on the cover? This book is a surprisingly calm but clever story about an absent-minded mother and her crazy ferret brood’s trip to the grocery store that is saved from being completely disastrous by the unassuming sharp eye of the tiniest member of the family. Here is Edwin Speaks Up by April Stevens, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, 2011.
One of the things that I loved about this book right off the bat is the 1950s setting. This would be completely lost on every child reader I’m sure, but it delights me greatly. The wallpaper, the cute patterned dresses on all the females, the station wagon (with anachronistic seatbelts and carseat—but the back seats are rear-facing!), and the incredible politeness of the adult characters are all pieces of a lovely nostalgic bygone era. I love that Blackall made this the setting.
But on to the story. It is the day before Baby Edwin’s birthday and he is dressed and ready to go to the store. Unfortunately, his four siblings and his sweet but unorganized mother are incredibly busy in their own worlds of chaos. Mrs. Finnemore, the mother, has an inability to keep track of anything from her keys, to her pocketbook, and even her children.
Baby Edwin at first appears to be blissfully unaware of the surrounding events and lost in his own language of babbles. However, the alert reader will be sure to discover that amongst the babbles are actually the solutions to the occurring problems. These babbles are within the text blocks, but appear more importantly in marvelously placed and hand-lettered speech bubbles. Also included, as would be in just about every tiny human’s vocabulary, are surprise and giggle-inducing potty words. Nothing major, but words that are incredibly easy language mistakes and hilariously fun to hear. “Gloody pooper do no LEAVEY”
The purpose of the family trip is for regular groceries, but most importantly to get some sugar for Baby Edwin’s birthday cake. Through one of Mrs. Finnemore’s moments, the carts get switched and Edwin seems to be the only one to notice the issue, as well as the precious lost sugar.
I was absolutely delighted by this “sweet” tale and every time I read it, I leave smiling. I certainly feel for the poor mother who can’t seem to get her act together; but mostly, I actually feel for poor little Edwin whom is genuinely trying to communicate and is being completely ignored. Boy, if that isn’t a feeling that is oh, so prevalent through childhood and let’s be honest, even in adulthood. When I’m feeling introspective, it is easy for me to start looking for hidden meaning about miscommunication and overlooking the little guy. But in the end, this is a lovely piece of art with a hilarious hero in a striped footed outfit who speaks his own language and gets the job done.
Author April Stevens is a bit of an unknown to me, and I haven’t found any great bio on her either. Her text in Edwin Speaks Up is wonderfully detail-less in all the right places. I simply love books where what is happening is actually a bit, or a lot, different from what the text seems to be saying. There’s just enough of that here without being too confusing. Ms. Stevens asks you to be a smart reader and really puts you into the mode of watching that Edwin to see what everyone else is missing.
I first discovered illustrator Sophie Blackall through her wonderful series, which are now a book, called Missed Connections. She has illustrated over twenty picture books and her style is instantly recognizable and excellent. I love her color palettes and most especially the patterns that she uses to add detail and visual interest.
This is a fun book to read, and to read-aloud. Check out this ferret family’s grocery adventure and perhaps, like me, you’ll be listening a little more closely when those little ones babble. Who knows what we’re missing most days!