Thursday, March 29, 2012

Picture Book: Willy (by Geert De Kockere)

Summary of Willy (by Geert De Kockere):  
The book begins with a description of Willy. He has:   

legs like pillars….
a body as big as two…
two huge ears that flap in the wind...
a trunk that dangles…
a tail with a ridiculous little brush at the end…

Willy is an elephant. Even though he is enormous and awkward in size, he uses his unique traits to help others. For instance, he uses his huge ears to listen to others while his trunk keeps the beat in the choir. He is seldom home because he is "extremely" welcome—everywhere. 

The narrative shifts away from Willy, the elephant, to people. Each phrase has a picture of a person with that physical quality. 

So if you have legs like pillars
Or ears that flap in the wind,
Or if you have a body as big as two,
Or arms that dangle…
Think of Willy.

This book is a celebration of individual differences. Willy is loved and accepted despite his gawky, enormous body because he demonstrates good manners, selflessness, and helpfulness. By beginning with an animal that is accepted as large, DeKockere creates the vision that size and physical imperfections do not matter. The shift to people is unexpected. His technique made me feel the truth of the story more powerfully. Artist Carll Cneut has created whimsical illustrations in neutrals and reds to reflect the text. The characters are not attractive in the traditional sense.  Sometimes their features, like Willy's, are exaggerated.  All of these parts effectively together with the theme of the narrative.

Willy is an ideal story to accompany others about individuality like Stand Tall Molly Lou Mellon, Wink, and Ten Big Toes and a Prince’s Nose. In a culture that pushes an unrealistic standard of beauty and perfection, children can benefit from stories about confident, successful people who do not fit into the expected mold--both to encourage acceptance of others and themselves. I recommend this book for ages 3-9.

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