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Leave Me Alone!

leave-me-alonLeave Me Alone! has everything necessary for a great picture book: a frustrated main character, epic adventure, and derpy goats. A book with derpy yarn-eating goats may be being considered for the Caldecott Medal, and I’m pretty thrilled about it.

This is cartoonist Vera Brosgol’s first picture book, and though I’ve heard great things about her graphic novel Anya’s Ghost, I haven’t read it yet. I went into this book with no expectations. At first, Leave Me Alone! seems to be your standard folktale, but it quickly morphs into something odd and heartwarming. We’re introduced to an old woman who lives with her huge family in a tiny house. Because she can’t get her knitting done, she packs up and heads out to find some peace and quiet. While searching for a quiet spot, she’s bothered by a bear family, hungry mountain goats, and cute little green aliens. “LEAVE ME ALONE!” is the only thing she says in the entire book, but she isn’t as prickly as we’re led to believe; she has a loving task ahead of her and simply needs time to focus. Elements of the story remind me of Jill Murphy’s classic, Five Minutes’ Peace, but Brosgol trades a bathtub for a wormhole!

This book is Caldecott-worthy for its clean art and design, clever storytelling and imagination. Even the cover is dynamic: four of the story’s characters lean out of their frames to stare at the old woman as she shouts in frustration. Right away, readers can’t help but wonder, “Just why is she so cranky??” Brosgol is a master of characterization, expression, and subtle humor. I was cracking up by the second spread because the old woman has THE BEST annoyed expressions. Brosgol’s lines are super clean, and the colors are warm. I love how the book is balanced between excellent use of white space and full spreads of color. She uses rich browns, yellows, greens, and reds that are perfect for the feel of a folktale. By the way, thanks for teaching me what a samovar is, Vera! Now I just need to figure out how to fit one into my backpack…

But let’s speculate about what a room full of adults (the Caldecott committee) might see in this book. How does it display “respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations”? How does Leave Me Alone! provide a child with a “visual experience” in an exceptional way? Let’s start with the humor. This is a funny book that’s great for story time. There are repetitive phrases, multiple opportunities for shouting out, and the story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. Also, Leave Me Alone! very importantly explores being alone. Childhood is often very busy and social. Children can definitely relate to the feeling of needing space; mindfulness and quiet time are important for healthy development. Once the old woman finds her quiet spot and completes her knitting, she doesn’t want to be alone anymore and returns to her family. Like the old woman, children thrive by having a support network to fall back on. Maybe the old woman doesn’t have the best manners, but her intentions are golden, and her family is tight-knit.

I’m excited to see that people like this book as much as I do! I’m curious about how kids are reacting to it. Are they enjoying it? Librarians and teachers, did this book make it to your Mock Caldecotts?

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Alia Jones About Alia Jones

Alia Jones is a senior library services assistant with The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. She reviews for Kirkus and blogs about diverse children's literature at readitrealgood.com.

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Comments

  1. Oh, my three year old loves this one! We’ve read it over and over, and like all great picture books I’m still enjoying it each time. I love the way Brosgol plays with the folk tale structure, plus the use of color and texture in the illustrations. Definitely in my top 5.

  2. Sam Juliano says:

    It is unquestionably one of the very best picture books of 2016, and in the classrooms it has been all the rage this school year. Those three words spoken with exclamatory ardor never fail to attract an eruption of laughter and as a result you have riveted students throughout the reading. I have not yet conducted my own mock Caldecott for the six first grade classes I read to, but I’d wager this will be up there, if not #1 certainly in the Top 3 or 4 My kids really adore Bob Shea’s the Happiest Book Ever, Salina Yoon’s Be A Friend and Sergio Ruzzier’s “This is Not A Picture Book” as well, but Brosgol’s book has the hook of anticipation. As to the pictorial design it is really exquisite and it reminds me of the past Caldecott Medal winner “Always Room For One More” by Sorche Nic Leodhas and Nonny Hogrogian, for the wall to wall humanity, but for illustrative style more like Margot Zemach’s Caldecott Honor winner “It Could Always Be Worse.” “Leave Me Alone” is bold, vivid and beautifully balanced, and the creativity accelerates as the story proceeds. In the end, it recalls “Hey Al” as our erstwhile human knitting machine realizes she’s far better off with her brood. I pretty much agree with everything you say here and I fully sheer your unbridled enthusiasm. The cover is indeed a gem too. I would not at all be surprised if this end’s up in the winner’s circle in some capacity. And it would represent that rare instance where gorgeous art is wed to classroom popularity.

    Fantastic piece here Alia! And aye on those derpy goats!

  3. Allison Grover Khoury says:

    Thanks for this fun review. You raise some good points that I’m glad I read here. I love the illustrations – I love this style of art/illustration. I saw lots of potential when I saw it in the bookstore after it came up on our list for Calling Caldecott. However, I ended up not using it because it is just too grumpy. Your pro arguments and those of Sam, whose views I deeply respect, aren’t good enough for me. I think the story and Mean Grandma shouting ‘Leave Me Alone!’ at everyone touches a nerve for me. And some pro arguments are that the ends justify the means. I don’t agree with that generally in life, and definitely not with children. Grandma coming back with sweaters successfully knit for everyone isn’t good enough. She achieved HER goal – but at what cost. And what were all those rambunctious cuties doing while she was gone? Then there is the problem with the message that it is OK to be if I’m mean if I give you a gift at the end. Well, maybe I’M the one who is grumpy. I’ll stop here and say that I am glad that this book is being discussed because I like stepping outside my comfort zone and my views with books – one reason I read this blog.

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