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Friday, August 5, 2016

Not Me! By Valeri Gorbachev

Today's guest contributor, Robbin Friedman, is a children's librarian at the Chappaqua Library. She chairs ALSC's School Age Programs and Service committee, serves on the Carnegie Medal/Notable Children's Videos committee, and writes reviews and other what-have-you for School Library Journal. 

In 2013, Valeri Gorbachev’s Me Too! debuted Bear and Chipmunk, friends of unequal size but matching enthusiasm for wintry fun.  Now experiencing a heat wave (with which we can all sympathize), the pair take a trip to the beach in Not Me!  This time around, Bear describes his excitement about the seaside: “‘I like the sun,” said Bear.” “”I hope we see a big fish,’ said Bear.” Chipmunk, however, does NOT enjoy the sand and surf and responds to Bear’s eagerness with a refrain of “Not me!” until the two friends finally head home at the end of the day.

Image from holidayhouse.com
The simple, repetitive language and straightforward line breaks serve emerging readers well, but the main appeal of the book lies in Gorbachev’s energetic illustrations.  The goofy solidity of Bear in his striped, full-body bathing suit and pink sunglasses contrasts beautifully with the slightness of poor Chipmunk, wearing little red swim trunks, being buffeted across the pages by waves, wind, and even whales.  In addition to their charm, the full-bleed, watercolor-and-ink illustrations mostly support the text, even with content-specific words like “dive.”  Visual jokes add dashes of humor without straying from the meaning, as when a snorkeling Bear doesn’t notice Chipmunk--in fins and mask--zipping away from the water with a crab on his tail.  (“‘I see a cute little fish’, said Bear. ’Not me!’ said Chipmunk.”)  Still, one or two conceptual sentences may leave new readers a bit stumped.  A beleaguered Chipmunk smooshed under a sand castle conveys unhappiness but doesn’t exactly translate the animal’s colloquialism, “I am not a beach person.”  

As we have come to expect from Holiday House’s I Like to Read series, the book features a non-serif font of an ample size, effective line breaks and a large enough format to enjoy the lively illustrations.  But does it propel burgeoning readers to turn pages?  While the text’s comfortable rhythm and the spirited pictures offer much to appreciate on each spread, the book operates without a sense of suspense or an obvious narrative arc and may not drive readers to stay through to the end.  Readers who do will be rewarded with a friendly resolution in the animals’ final exchange and a clever, but simple, inversion of the title phrase.  When Bear eventually asks beach-resistant Chipmunk why he came, the rodent answers that he wanted to be with Bear.  “‘You are a good friend,’ said Bear. ‘That’s me!’ said Chipmunk.”  Fans of sweet friendships, fun-filled illustrations and beachy reads will likely find many elements to enjoy in this story.  But without the “page-turning dynamic” from the award’s criteria, I suspect that this year’s Geisel Committee will decide the book is not quite for them. 

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