Not So Tall for Six was written by 2006 Cybils nonfiction picture book winning author Dianna Hutts Aston, and illustrated by Frank W. Dormer. I was interested in this book, about a very small six-year-old girl, because I'm "not so tall" myself. I must admit that it took me a second read-through to appreciate this quirky picture book, but on that second reading, I was won over.
Kylie Bell "comes from a long line of not-so-tall people." Their family motto is "Brave and smart and big at heart." When confronted at school by a big new bully named Rusty Jacks, Kylie has some negative interactions with him, and even runs away. She manages to play to her own strengths, however. And when the opportunity comes to do the right thing and help Rusty Jacks, Kylie remembers her family motto, and comes through.
The reason this book is a bit tricky at first is that the story is told from a sort of fantasy/surrealistic viewpoint. So, the first time we see Rusty he is "slithering around like a half-starved rattlesnake", and drawn with a human torso and serpent bottom. In another scene he looms over Kylie like a giant. Only in the scene where he needs help is he shown in actual kid size. I suspect that young readers will take in stride this fantasy-tinged Kylie's-eye-view of the situation, but it took me a second pass to get into it.
Closer inspection reveals the cleverness by which Kylie's imaginings tie back the details we know of her home life. For example, the second page of the book includes, as background, a picture of a tiny little woman in a bonnet being menaced by several large men in cowboy hats. Later on, when Kylie is confronted by Rusty, she almost calls Rusty a name, but then "a vision of Great-great grandmother Beulah Bell, who kept hold of her good manners even when the cowpokes didn't, pops into her mind." I like the tying back to that earlier picture. Similarly, one of Kylie's relatives was a snake charmer, and thus it makes sense for her to picture the bully Rusty as a snake.
I also enjoyed the humor of Dormer's pen and ink and watercolor illustrations. A portrait of one not-so-tall relative shows only the top of his head peeking over the bottom of the picture frame. Kylie sits in her father's lap, both of them tiny compared to the high back of the armchair. And to make sure that we get the country and western atmosphere of the book, a pot of cactii sits to the right of armchair, and the colors run to tan, sage, and rust. Kylie herself is rather Pippi-esque, and stands out from the more muted background, with red pigtails streaming out to either side.
The book also features Aston's playful use of language, and a southwestern slant to the text. For example:
"Kylie Bell skedaddles faster than a spooked horse.
At times like this a sneaky thought tip-tippity-two-steps across Kylie Bell's brain. She is so tall the ground rumbles like a mighty oil gusher when she runs. She is so tee-totally-tall, big kids can play hopscotch in her shadow."
"Kylie Bell is afraid. But even though her legs feel like Aunt Cherokee's cactus jelly, she skitter-dee-doos over to Rusty Jacks, looks straight up into his nostrils, and announces, 'Ladybugs do not accept rides from wild boars.'"
Fun stuff. It reminds me of living in Texas. Like Kylie Bell, Not So Tall for Six is itself brave and smart and big at heart. Although the book has solid messages about courage and compassion, they never overwhelm the story. I think that younger kids will miss some of the nuances, but I recommend this book highly for first and second graders, especially those who live in the southwestern states.
Publication Date: January 15, 2008 (new edition)
Source of Book: A review copy from the publisher
Other Blog References: See some original artwork by Frank Dormer at 7-Imp, and Frank Dormer featured at What Adrienne Thinks About That as part of the Blogging for a Cure Event
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.