When Randolph Turned Rotten by Charise Mericle Harper is about two best friends who live together in a big city apartment. Randolph is a (male) beaver and Ivy is a (female) goose. The two friends eat together, read bedtime stories in matching chairs, and sleep one above the other in bunk beds. All is well in their world until Ivy is invited to a "girls only" sleepover party. As she bubbles over with excitement about the sleepover, Randolph becomes increasingly jealous. Eventually his "stinky rotten insides" take over, and he schemes maliciously against his best friend.
I have to admit that I found Randolph and Ivy's co-ed, shared-bedroom living situation a little odd for a picture book. Ivy and Randolph's cultural predecessors George and Martha are also male-female best friends (though of the same species). George and Martha struggle similarly with inappropriate behavior and jealousy, from time to time, but they don't live together. [Quick thank you to the best friend who introduced me to George and Martha.]
Once I got past puzzling over the living situation, I quite enjoyed When Randolph Turned Rotten. Randolph's jealousy is realistically portrayed, as he progresses from feeling sorry for himself to fantasizing about being included to deciding to ensure that Ivy has "a horrible, rotten, awful, and icky time." His feelings are universal, and his deviousness is irresistible, especially as counterpoint to Ivy's innocent excitement. The ending is predictable, but fun and satisfying nonetheless.
What makes the book shine are Harper's acrylic on illustration board pictures. Each page consists of multiple smaller panels. Many of the panels contain thought bubbles with further pictures and text, story within story. The funniest is a thought bubble from Randolph in which he thinks "I wish I was a girl so I could go to the party." There's a picture of him with long blond hair, barrettes, and a little purple purse. It's priceless.
The illustrations in When Randolph Turned Rotten remind me a bit of those in Mélanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel books (review here). Though less stylized, Harper's illustrations have a similar juxtaposition of simple overall style with exuberant, witty detail. For example, a picture of "Nasty Randolph" against a white background has arrows pointing to "mad hands", "mean feet", and "tons of mean thoughts." There's a bit of a graphic novel quality to the book, one that I think will hold the attention of early elementary school kids.
All in all, I think that When Randolph Turned Rotten is a winner, one that kids and parents, as well as anyone who has ever been jealous of a friend or sibling, will enjoy.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 2007
Source of Book: Review copy from Random House
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.