Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Review - Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight

Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight
by Rachael MacFarlane
illustrated by Spencer Laudiero
Date: 2019
Publisher: Imprint
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

A charming, rhyming picture book with an empowering message that challenges stereotypes from writer Rachael MacFarlane and illustrator Spencer Laudiero

I heard someone once say
That boys shouldn't cry.
But boys feel things too,
It’s okay, and here’s why!

Equal parts humor and heart, Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight follows a young boy as he cycles through various feelings he experiences in every day life. Harrison feels happiness, sadness, pride, fear, joy, anger, and courage—all while playing and imagining without limitation! With Harrison Dwight, boys everywhere will feel empowered to play in whatever way they choose and learn that it’s always okay to express what you’re feeling inside!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Based on that title, I think I was expecting... well, more.

Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight is a book written in somewhat clumsy verse. Rather than being a book about a little boy who happens to like ballet and slaying dragons, the focus is on the expression of feelings. While that's laudable, I just feel like I didn't get what the title promised. There's lots of stuff about society's gender expectations, like the whole "boys don't cry" nonsense. Basically, all this book is saying is that boys can feel and express whatever feelings they like.

It might have helped to round out the story a little more had there been some sort of conflict, such as other kids making fun of him for crying. The ultra-accepting atmosphere of this book may be ideal, but it's not realistic, and it doesn't help little boys who might be facing scorn because they're expressing feelings that aren't viewed as traditionally masculine.

The illustrations are a bit too cartoon-like for my taste. They're colourful, and kids will probably like them, but they've got that sort of clean perfection that I've seen in a lot of self-published books. (In contrast, the rougher sketches on the end papers are much more appealing. I kind of wish the whole book had been done in that style!)

I just read Jessica Love's Julián Is a Mermaid, so the bar for books like this is set pretty high in my mind at the moment. Harrison Dwight, Ballerina and Knight just doesn't measure up, in either the text or the pictures. I realize the message is slightly different, but for books about little boys breaking down gender norms and doing stereotypically "girly" things, I'd recommend mermaids over ballerinas.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: 3/5
Writing: 4/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall: 2.86 out of 5

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