Monday, October 21, 2019

Review - Freda and the Blue Beetle

Freda and the Blue Beetle
by Sophie Gilmore
Date: 2020
Publisher: Owlkids Books
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Freda lives in a town where people are always telling her to be more careful. But Freda loves to explore—which is how, one day, she discovers an injured beetle. She names him Ernest, feeds him, and befriends him. They become inseparable as Ernest grows ever bigger and stronger.

Noticing Ernest’s now-enormous size, the townspeople put him to work. But Ernest is strange, and has a strong appetite, and when a prize ewe goes missing, people start to talk. Freda listens to their appeals and sends her beloved friend away. But when a terrible storm puts the villagers in real danger, Freda knows who can help—and she stands up and says so. After Ernest uses his unique strength to save the day, everyone wants him to stay. But maybe this time, Freda and Ernest choose to listen to their hearts.

Illustrated in watercolor and gouache, this is a fantastical modern fable about the value of listening to your heart, not always listening to others, and making your own voice heard.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit of a surreal tale about a girl named Freda and her friend, a giant blue beetle named Ernest. Freda is a girl who doesn't listen. She climbs trees and swims in dangerous waters. The townspeople think she's going to come to harm, but she often makes fascinating discoveries as a result of her disobedience. One day, she finds a little blue beetle with a broken wing. She takes him home, nurses him back to health, and gives him a name. But Ernest grows quickly, and when he proves to be strong, the villagers put him to work. That growth and strength relies on being fed, though, and after a prized sheep goes missing (and Ernest is blamed for eating it), he is cast out of the village. It isn't until a calamity befalls the village and Ernest comes to the rescue that the townspeople start to see his value (or, rather, how he can benefit them). The story ends with Freda making an unusual, though completely logical, choice.

I'm not sure about the message in this one. It might be just a bit too nuanced for younger readers. (It's basically: Don't listen to your elders if they're being self-serving bigots.) Learning when not to listen is an important skill, but I'd be concerned that some kids might take that too far. Discernment is key. As an adult, I like the message just fine, as I think it's important; we shouldn't listen to our elders if what they're telling us to do is potentially harmful. I just wonder if that message is clear enough in this particular book.

Overall, though, I think this could be a good picture book for slightly older kids who are starting to learn more about boundaries (and that adults--even if they have good intentions--aren't always right).

Thank you to NetGalley and Owlkids Books for providing a digital ARC.

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

Enjoyment: 4/5

Overall: 3.67 out of 5

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