Review of When I Draw a Panda

When I Draw a Panda 
by Amy June Bates; illus. by the author 
Primary    Wiseman/Simon    40 pp.    g 
9/20    978-1-4814-5148-2    $17.99 
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-5149-9    $10.99 

In this celebration of imagination, creativity, and friendship, a girl’s chalk-drawn panda leaps off her wall, and together they doodle their way through various adventures. Before the panda makes an appearance, the child is frustrated because “sometimes when they say to draw a perfect circle, mine turns out a little wonky.” She draws more and more nonperfect circles until the panda emerges from the apparent scribbles. Like the girl, the panda “draws his own way.” When instructed to “draw something pretty,” Panda draws “something pretty silly.” Asked to draw “a perfect pirate, superhero, crocodile, mad scientist, or princess,” Panda “prefers to draw an imperfect, super heroic, madly scientific, piratical princess crocodile.” With each new directive, the innovative pair draws something radical, creative, and unexpected. In illustrations rendered in watercolor, gouache, pastel, and colored pencil, the child’s and panda’s textured and flowy drawings pop against backgrounds that resemble a floor-to-ceiling chalkboard; perspective and sizing shifts reflect the pair’s spontaneous creative energy. On the last spread, the girl contentedly colors in a blank book not far from a giant stuffed panda sitting in the corner of her room, leaving readers to wonder and surmise. The endpapers provide some step-by-step drawings. The unexpected creativity and adventure that spring from “coloring outside the lines,” as it were, will resonate with free spirts (and maybe even some perfectionists).

From the November/December 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart
Emmie Stuart is a school librarian at the Percy Priest Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee.

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