of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
While Emily Jenkins' first authorial effort was a middle-grades fantasy, she quickly found her place as an emerging star of picture-book authordom, producing several excellent titles in a short period time. While Jenkins' versatility allows her approaches to vary, each book displays an empathy for childhood with all its limitations and a humorous, individual voice.
Jenkins' first picture book, Five Creatures (winner of a Bulletin Blue Ribbon and a Boston/Globe/Horn Book Honor) is an illustrated list of characteristics, some shared, some distinctive, among the three humans and two cats that live in the main character's house. The speaker--a little girl--enumerates how many among herself, her parents, and her pets have red hair (three) and how many have gray (two), how many like to eat mice (two) and how many like to eat beets (one), and so on. The categories, developed by Jenkins from a Venn diagram, also show how the girl's size and age sometimes prevent her from participating fully in certain activities which other household members enjoy (such as sitting on high stools or slithering under the fridge). By grouping the adults, cats, and girl all together as "creatures" and by treating all their abilities and preferences as equally valid, Jenkins highlights humorous similarities between all five mammals while distinguishing the little girl as unique in her world.
Uniqueness is also a theme in Daffodil (BCCB 7/04), an appealing domestic drama in which triplet sisters Violet, Rose, and Daffodil look alike (cute little redheads) but nonetheless possess physical distinguishers (squinty eyes, a dimple, and a big mouth) and, it turns out, personal preferences. Daffodil likes her sisters' purple and pink party dresses ("Such lucky ducks"), but not her own "pee-yellow dress." When adults make jokes about her dress and her name, Daffodil erupts, and finally boycotts the offending item of apparel. Rose and Violet also reject their dresses, but the three find a solution in wearing each other's dresses, eventually donning even more diverse outfits as they explore clothing's ability to express individuality. The girls' discovery of free-wheeling fashion also provides Mom with liberating options; no longer does she have to make three of everything (the lucky duck).
In Jenkins' most recent picture book, That New Animal, likes and dislikes also play a strong role, but these familial likes and dislikes are expressed by the family dogs, Marshmallow and FudgeFudge. The two dogs' initial reaction to their humans' new baby, is mistrust, based on the baby's unfamiliar smell. Soon, however, mistrust turns to downright hate, as the humans ignore the dogs' needs and focus exclusively on the baby, which doesn't deserve such preferential treatment, being so obviously stupid as well as whiny. FudgeFudge wants to act out her hostility as directly as possible, by, say, eating the baby, but Marshmallow reminds her, "We'd get in trouble." When something called a Grandpa comes to visit, however, the dogs find themselves unequivocally defending the baby against the threatening newcomer (who really just wants to hold his grandchild). Funny, but that new animal doesn't smell new anymore, especially not compared with Grandpa. It smells "familiar," because now it belongs to FudgeFudge and Marshmallow, to "hate as much as they want to. And to like, just a little bit."Through deft use of comparisons, engaging protagonists, and deep understanding sympathetically expressed, Jenkins explores the way children classify arrange and organize their world. In these picture books, liking and disliking specific things is everyone's privilege, part of being alive, a way of distinguishing ours from theirs and me from her, but also a way of finding natural connections. From the viewpoint of a child, so often and peremptorily assigned belongings and even allegiances, Emily Jenkins's books frame that all-important issue of personal preference, classification, and discernment exactly right.
--Timnah Card, Reviewer
Daffodil; illus. by Tomek Bogacki. Frances Foster Books, 2004. (BCCB 7/04)
Five Creatures; illus. by Tomek Bogacki. Frances Foster Books, 2001. (BCCB 2/01)
The Secret Life of Billie's Uncle Myron; by Len Jenkin and Emily Jenkins. Henry Holt, 1996.
That New Creature; illus. by Pierre Pratt. Frances Foster Books, 2005. (BCCB 3/05)