Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Weirdo

Weirdo by Zadie Smith & Nick Laird, illustrated by Magenta Fox (Penguin Random House, UK) PB RRP $27.99 978 0 241 44960 8

Reviewed by Karen Hendriks

Weirdo is a picture book that instantly captures a reader’s eye with its clever title. Kit’s birthday present is Maud, a guinea pig who arrives as a surprise wearing a judo suit. Maud finds herself in an unfamiliar place where she really doesn’t fit in. The other pets don’t understand or approve of her. Maud draws on her inner strength to be herself and becomes accepted.

Zadie Smith and Nick Laird have created a quiet text that builds as Maud tries to find her place and still be true to herself. Their wry humour and use of short sentences and simple questioning let the reader understand Maud’s feelings about being misunderstood and bullied for being different. The dialogue is powerful and real. The page turns draw the reader in with the rise and fall of the story. The power of word choice is impactful in this story. ‘She just said she’s a weirdo, sniggered Dora.’ Weirdo is so much more than a child receiving a birthday surprise. This story is masterfully crafted with many layers of meaning in a thoughtful and surprising way.

This is a first book for the illustrator Magenta Fox and what a treat. Her palette choice perfectly mirrors the mood of the story. Magenta tackles the emotion of the story head on as she uses perspective to great effect. Maud is small and often powerless and we can clearly see this in the illustrations. Her character’s facial expressions bring into play the bullying and misunderstanding. The use of an apartment block dramatizes Maud’s floating away and seeming to be lost. Magenta’s colourful, quirky character Emily Brookstein oozes confidence and gentleness. She becomes a soft place for Maud to land and gain silent strength from. The humour on the wordless double spread at the end of the story not only leaves the reader satisfied but empowered. And the endpapers showcase how we are all different and unique.

This is a picture book for readers aged 3 to 8 years that will find its way onto many shelves. It is an engaging book that can lead to as little or as much discussion as needed. Weirdo is a book that parents and teachers alike will appreciate but is especially for those of us that feel a little different. Being yourself is the best thing that you can ever do.

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