Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World. By John Burningham. Knopf, 32 pp., $12.29. Ages 2 and up. [Note: I'm having computer problems that keep me from showing a better image of the cover of Edwardo, which is much more attractive than it looks here. Jan]
By Janice Harayda
John Burningham is an ideal author-illustrator for preschoolers who are delightful nonconformists. His career began more than 40 years ago when he won the Kate Greenaway Medal, England’s Caldecott, for his first book, Borka: The Adventures of a Goose With No Feathers. Since then his book have won honors as wide-ranging as the German Youth Literature Prize and a Best Book Award from School Library Journal.
Like his countryman Quentin Blake, Burningham has a distinctively witty style of drawing that allows him to find humor in ordinary circumstances. He appeals to the latent anarchist in every preschooler, partly because he tends to depict — and give the last word to — boys and girls who are slightly out-of-step with others. He makes clear that children have vibrant inner lives that adults often misunderstand. But he doesn’t moralize. He dramatizes amusing stories in which young children can see themselves.
Burningham’s latest picture book gives an amusing twist to the theme that children become what adults expect them to be. Edwardo is seen by his elders as loud, rude, mean and dirty – “the horriblest boy in the whole wide world” – until he kicks over a flower pot. A bystander gives him praise instead of the criticism he’s used to hearing. “I see you are starting a little garden, Edwardo,” the man says. “It looks lovely. You should get some more plants.” Edwardo finds that he has a green thumb and, as other adults also begin to treat him more kindly, more talents.
Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World isn’t as effective as some of Burningham’s earlier books, including the wonderful John Patrick Norman McHennessey: The Boy Who Was Always Late. But even the second-tier books from this gifted author are better than most of what you’ll find at bookstores this season. And because Burningham has a deservedly high reputation, many libraries have his books. So here’s a suggestion: If you know preschooler whose motto might as well be, “Why Can’t Everybody Be More Like Me?,” head for the “B” shelves in the picture-book section of your bookstore or library. Leaf through any books you can find by Burningham, and see if they don’t capture something of that child’s spirit.
Best line/picture: Before he reforms, Edwardo dresses has comically spiky hair. This suggests aptly that he’s so bad, he makes even his own hair stand on end.
Worst line: The title. Atypically for Burningham, Edwardo: The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World is more cute than funny. Compare that title with that of John Patrick Norman McHennesseu: The Boy Who Was Always Late, which has a stronger rhythm and is more suggestive. And isn’t clear why Burningham used the nonstandard spelling of Eduardo, which isn’t quite funny enough to be funny. Edwardo seems to deserve either a weirder name or one that, like John Patrick Norman McHennessey’s, carries more weight.
Published: April 2007 www.randomhouse.com/kids
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.