21 July 2010

Subversive favorites: Imogene's Antlers by David Small

I've decided to start a new, periodic feature on this blog that highlights some of my favorite picture books (possibly branching out into Easy Readers and Chapter Books if inspiration strikes) which I think are....well.....subversive. And we'll start with Imogene's Antlers, written and illustrated by David Small. This gem of a book, which was featured on Reading Rainbow, tells the simple story of a little girl, named Imogene, who wakes up one morning and, as the title suggests, discovers that she has sprouted a pair of antlers. Clearly a happy-go-lucky sort of kid, Imogene takes to her new appendages without so much as a tear. In fact, she discovers that antlers are handy--she sits in the kitchen with the maid, who uses the antlers as a towel rack; she go out to feed the birds with antlers full of doughnuts, as placed there by the cook; when she practices the piano she fills her antlers with candles, Liberache style. Imogene adapts and has a good time doing it.

Her mother, on the other hand, swoons. She calls the doctor--nothing to be done. She calls the school principal--he can only stare menacingly at the unperturbed Imogene. She calls the milliner in an attempt to disguise the antlers with a custom-made hat. You'll have to read the book to see how that turns out. The next morning when Imogene comes down to the breakfast table, sans antlers, the mother greets her with open arms, so glad to "see her back to normal........" That pregnant pause is part of the text, by the way, because Imogene has another surprise in store for her family, tucked behind her and out of sight.

No explanation is ever given as to why Imogene wakes up with antlers. However, we know something very important about her family by the fact that in her household there is a kitchen maid, a cook, and a milliner on speed-dial--they are old money! And what does old money hate? A scandal! And what has Imogene brought upon the family, just by being herself--scandal! A scandal so bad, they've resorted to a ridiculous hat in the attempt to keep it under wraps.

So here comes the subversion: Imogene doesn't care. It's clear from following the story that Imogene is quite enjoying her antlers, and has even found ways to utilize them. At the end of the day, when she's tucked away in bed, she sighs, "remembering the long, eventful day." The illustration shows that it was no tired sigh which escaped her lips, but one of satisfaction, in which ''long, eventful" translates to "an awful lot of fun". And when she comes downstairs to show her family what she's got in store for them now, there is no denying the impish delight on her face. Imogene will never be the same again, and she's embraced the change, scandal be damned.

That's my kind of girl!

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