by David Soman and Jacky Davis
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2008
I have a confession to make: I’m a book snob. I usually avoid bestsellers like the plague.
This is partly due to experience. When I have tried to read John Grisham, Tom Clancy, or the like, I’ve found them unappealing. They just don’t suit my tastes as a reader. Ditto celebrity-authored picture books. But sometimes the prejudice is nothing more than orneriness. I didn’t read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone until about 2001, for instance, simply because everyone else was reading it.
David Soman and Jacky Davis’ Ladybug Girl was one of those books, one I avoided reading just because it was popular. I assumed it would be like Fancy Nancy or Junie B. Jones: another bestselling book girls read in stages. Entertaining but formulaic, not certifiably “bad” but certainly not inspiring.
But then I saw the book showcased at our local library, and I had second thoughts. First, our children’s librarian doesn’t usually showcase mediocre books. Second, that cover! The title character has pride of place; she looks confident, energetic, and just a little mischievous.
So I checked it out. And I was very, very pleasantly surprised.
The story is simple: Ladybug Girl, also known as Lulu, is left to “figure out her own fun time” one morning. Mama and Papa have projects to do, and Older Brother says Lulu’s “too little” to play baseball with him and his friends.
She mopes for a bit, then slowly makes her way outside, where she discovers that she really can make her own fun. Accompanied by Bingo the basset hound, she jumps into puddles, climbs trees, and turns an old stone wall into a fort. In the process, she recovers her sense of self and ultimately returns home “feeling as big as the whole outdoors.”
I love this book for so many reasons. First, the story follows an authentic trajectory–like any normal little girl, Lulu is irritated and somewhat hurt by being left on her own. She only gradually transitions from dejection and uncertainty to self-direction and confidence. The message? It’s normal to feel sad when people let you down, and it’s normal to heal gradually from disappointment. But heal you will, if you give yourself space to do it.
I also love that Lulu gets a sidekick. Girl characters rarely have sidekicks–authors tend to give them friends or companions instead (or to make them into sidekicks). It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. You partner with friends or companions; you lead sidekicks. By giving Lulu a sidekick, Soman and Davis make her a leader–thus showing little girls that they can be leaders, too.
And then there’s Lulu’s reaction to her brother’s dismissal of her as “too little.” Early in the book, she takes it to heart. But later, when he repeats it, she reconsiders. Her confidence bolstered by her outdoor explorations, she decides that her brother is the little one–for being mean and combative.
In other words, she refuses to let someone else’s unkindness define who she is. Instead, she considers what she knows about herself and forms her own opinion. She realizes that her inner qualities are more important than outward stature, and she takes pride in her own helpfulness, courage, and resourcefulness.
When no one else inspires her, she finds a way to inspire herself.