by Philip C. Stead; ill. by Matthew Cordell
Roaring Brook Press, 2015
I’ve written before about how much I love books about girls who do. And if any book is about a girl who does, it’s Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell’s quirky little volume Special Delivery.
This picture book stars a heroine named Sadie who wants to send an elephant to her great-aunt Josephine. When the postmaster informs Sadie that she’ll need an entire wheelbarrow-full of stamps to mail the pachyderm, the revelation touches off a series of adventures as Sadie attempts to complete the delivery on her own.
Sadie and her elephant pal complete their journey by way of biplane, alligator, train, and ice cream wagon. Along the way, they crash-land in the jungle, fall in with monkey bandits, and eat a few too many beans. When they finally reach Josephine, we discover that this is not by any means the first time Sadie has taken such a trip.
The book reads like the kind of story your imaginative, confident four-year-old would tell you. It has a kind of hilarious internal logic that you simply can’t argue with, but at the same time it’s complete nonsense. Cordell’s squiggly illustrations, always skirting the edge of the disorderly, only add to the effect.
What I really love about this book is the nonchalance with which most of the grownups interact with Sadie. As though mailing an elephant, commandeering a biplane and an alligator, and paying for ice cream with peanuts (literal peanuts, not small change) are things that little girls do every day. Even the biplane owner, who gets dramatic, is only upset about fuel–the fact that Sadie’s flying the plan is itself no big deal.
And Sadie, naturally, sees nothing strange about what she’s doing. Josephine lives alone and likes animal companions, so of course Sadie must get her one. The fact that she has to do so by somewhat unorthodox means is irrelevant. After all, she’s just taking advantage of whatever solution presents itself.
These two elements–everyone’s casual acquiescence to Sadie’s plans, plus Sadie’s confident and creative problem-solving–are what make this book inspiring.
I think that, in our culture, the deck is still stacked against active girls. It’s a shorter deck than the one our mothers or grandmothers faced, but it’s still there. And girls who grow up to be active women continue to face pushback. Sometimes it’s overt, in the form of increased scrutiny, lower pay, and hostile remarks. Sometimes it’s more subtle, in the form of public comments about what female politicians and executives are wearing or how balanced their family lives are (issues that are almost never raised with men in the same roles).
Sadie gives little girls an early model for facing those kinds of obstacles: keep your eyes focused on your goal, and be firm that what you’re doing makes perfect sense for you to do. It doesn’t really matter if nobody or everybody has done it before. And if someone throws up an obstacle in your path, look over or around it for another way to get where you want to go.
With that kind of mindset, in the end, you’ll reach your destination–and you might just find a warm welcome waiting for you when you do.