Happy Anniversary: When Sophie Gets Angry—Really, Really Angry...

When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry… by Molly Bang was published by Blue Sky in 1999. It celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2019.

 

Before 1999, we had picture books about hurt feelings, friendship rifts, disappointment and sadness and sulkiness; about terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days. We had picture books (notably Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are) that acknowledged and confronted and even celebrated childhood’s darker places. But to my knowledge When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry… was the first picture book to take on pure, unadulterated, uncontrollable rage. The kind of anger that is sparked by nothing much and, as with the flick of a switch, becomes, literally from one moment to the next, all-consuming and Other: a thing, a force almost separate from the person experiencing it.

Sophie documents the stages of one such episode: the trigger, the initial blow-up, the escalation into full-blown rage (with Sophie as “a volcano, ready to explode”), the necessary release of negative energy (she “runs and runs and runs until she can’t run anymore”), the tears, the search for consolation (the peace and beauty of the natural world), and finally the return to herself.

Sophie was named, justly, a Caldecott Honor Book, and Bang’s art is what lifts the book from what we might have considered bibliotherapy. Look at Bang’s use of color: the violent shade of red that represents Sophie’s rage; the thick outlines around Sophie that change from happy yellow to angry red and gradually calm to orange and then yellow again; the serene whites and greens of the old beech tree Sophie climbs to allow the “wide world [to comfort] her.” Note Bang’s use of shapes: the distortion of the landscape as Sophie runs and runs, as if the trees themselves had been blasted by the force of her anger; the cozy circles when Sophie returns to her loving family. The art is as powerful and visceral as the experience itself.

There are no judgments in Sophie, no lectures — just, simply, what happens and how it feels. For me it’s still a top mirror book for kids who experience this kind of anger, as well as a window book for those trying to understand and help them. A book we’ve all been lucky to have for twenty years.

 

From the November/December 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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