Boni Ashburn's two previous books, Over at the Castle and Hush, Little Dragon, are among my favorite read-alouds. Her newest book, I Had a Favorite Dress, is very different in tone and target audience. But it's a book that I appreciate a little bit more each time I read it, and one that I think will become a household favorite once Baby Bookworm is old enough to appreciate it.
I Had a Favorite Dress is about an elementary school age girl who has a favorite dress that she wears every Tuesday. When, as inevitably happens, her dress becomes too short, her mother challenges her to "Make molehills out of mountains", instead of complaining about the situation. While she doesn't exactly understand the analogy, this advice inspires the girl to ask her mother to turn the dress into a "new ruffly shirt". Which she wears every Wednesday, until ... the pattern repeats, until the precious dress is nothing more than a mere scrap of fabric.
The thing that I love most about this book is the rich vocabulary and internal rhyming that Ashburn uses. Like this:
"So I moaned and I groaned, I complained, distraught..."
"You're overwrought, dear, it's clear," Mama said.
"At first I felt tears till I shook my head clear
and showed my new problem to Mama dear."
"Because on Sundays, we go to Grandma's house with the white-on-white wall-to-wall carpet, and Grandma's eyebrows silently invite us to remove our shoes.
Until a Sunday, in the morn, when I found one sock, forlorn. Uh-oh!"
Anyone who can rhyme morn and forlorn in a children's picture book, and have it completely not feel contrived, is doing something right. This is a book that readers won't grow tired of. They'll find new connections in the text each time they read I Had A Favorite Dress.
It's also nice to see a book with a strong mother-daughter relationship, a book that encourages problem-solving, and a book that features, completely matter-of-factly, a non-white main character.
Julia Denos' illustrations "were made using watercolor, graphite, colored pencil, needle and thread, digital collage, and a bit of Photoshop here and there." It's an unusual mix, but one well-suited to a book about stitching things together. The dress is pretty and distinct, in all its forms, and the girl is stylish without being overly ornate or prissy (as is her mother, for that matter). The collage elements are intermittent, just enough to lend a certain three-dimensionality to the pictures.
I Had a Favorite Dress would be a perfect gift from mother to daughter (or daughter to mother, for that matter). It is clearly more of a girl book than a boy book (the very cover features an assortment of dresses). Because of this, it strikes me more as a book for one-on-one reads than for large group read-aloud, but I could be wrong about that (and would be interested to hear feedback from anyone who has read it in a group). In any event, I do think I Had a Favorite Dress would be wonderful to read aloud (as are Ashburn's other books), with the zippy language and selective use of rhyme. Recommended for readers in elementary school, and their parents.
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 1, 2011
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Maggie Lehrman
Also reviewed by: debnance | Natalia
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).