A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
In this house we love them. You don’t very often see grumpy heroines in children’s books, where heroines tend to be good and polite, probably in the name of setting children a good example. But children can’t be good and polite all the time, can they? They do, after all, have feelings, and moods that go up and down, so it’s interesting to children (and parents) to read stories about heroes and heroines who are experiencing more negative emotions. Olive is one such heroine and she is a cantankerous delight.
Olive is having a bad day. It all starts when she trips over her laces, loses a red button from her dungarees, and falls flat on her face. And let’s just take a moment to look at that face. If you haven’t pulled that exact expression at some point this week, then you’re doing better than I am.
Olive is in a bad mood and she is owning it. There’s no internalising of her grumpy feelings while she puts on a brave face for the benefit of the rest of the world. She is grumpy and she wants you to know it.
During Olive’s day, she encounters her various friends and is consistently rude to them all. But then a turning point occurs: something cheers Olive up! That something is the sweet shop and more specifically: a bag of Giant Jelly Worms. One sugar rush later and Olive is as right as rain but, lo and behold, her friends are now all in bad moods, and Olive can’t think why. . .
Olive shares out her Jelly Worms, and her friends begin to cheer up too. In the final image, however, there is another twist: we see Olive holding an empty sweet bag and the return of her thunderous face.
I imagine some parents won’t like this story, feeling that it encourages stroppy behaviour in children and, horror of horrors, for suggesting that sugary snacks are a mood lifter. But Olive’s story is an important one, because it explores different emotions and how those emotions affect the people around us. Grumpiness is just as much a part of human life as happiness, yet the light/dark and good/bad dichotomy of many a classic fairy tale ignores the fact that decent people can behave very badly, and vice versa, and of course this evasion lessens believability, because even very young children know that people aren’t constantly nice (which is possibly why modern twists on old fairy tales, with grumpy heroes like Shrek, prove so popular with audiences).
Olive and the Bad Mood encourages children to think about their own emotions and how best to express them. More than this, in a world awash with princessy, pink books aimed at little girls, it is wonderfully refreshing to find a story where the heroine is imperfect, impolite and full of attitude. After reading Lisa Bloom’s article in The Huffington Post, “How to Talk to Little Girls,” I’m even more aware of the tremendous pressure on little girls to be cute and lovely, and I’m grateful that Olive does not fit the Princess Perfect stereotype.
In conclusion, Olive and the Bad Mood has a strong narrative arc, excellent characterisation, wonderful illustrations, and the book would be a great addition to any young child’s bookshelf.
Templar, ISBN 978 1 84877 350 9, 32 pages, paperback, £6.99.