Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New Release Spotlight: Neela Potts Has Lots of Knots

Neela Potts Has Lots of Knots
By Tina L. Wuehr
Illustrations by Mari Brown

Another book from Pipsqueak Publishing and illustrator Mari Brown (see review for Catching Boo by Joanne Rowlinson, 6/11/08), Neela Potts Has Lots of Knots has some great things going for it: catchy illustrations, a great theme of diversity and acceptance, and a quirky main character, Neela Potts. A little girl whose knotty hair has gotten the best of her, the story centers around what it means to be a child of two parents who are of different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

While the story has its charming moments, there’s also something lacking. Aside from the occasional grammatical mistake, at times the choice to use rhyming text feels limiting to the potential to explore these complex issues even further. While everyone is trying to help Neela find a way to wear her hair that makes her feel good after she gets teased at school (“The poor little thing. Something should be done. Her Naani suggested ‘Let’s put it in a bun!’”), no one is telling her that she’s fine just the way she is, and the point is that she doesn’t need to change at all. I believe this is what Wuehr attempts to achieve with highlighting this difficult issue, and Neela does end up (sort of) happy in the end when she gets a hair cut she likes, but is this the message to send to children who may be struggling with their cultural identity, that everything will be okay if they just cut it all off and assimilate already?

At the same time, the story does succeed in creating a character many children can relate to, and part of this is due to Brown’s vivid watercolor illustrations. It is clear why Pipsqueak chooses her to illustrate many of their books, as her sense of character and color make her illustrations really come alive. While the book design could be a little more diverse (most spreads duplicate text on one page, illustrations on the other), as a whole they really do their job of making the book an arresting visual experience.

All in all, despite its few rough edges, Neela Potts Has Lots of Knots is worth the read, and succeeds in making us think really hard about these kinds of difficult issues surrounding diversity and cultural identity. Even though the book may not have pulled it off perfectly, the point is that it started the conversation that encourages us to continue our own dialogue in the communities we live and work in.

Review by Andrea Deeken, Indigo Editing, LLC

ISBN: 978-0-973-99623-4
Publisher: Pipsqueak Publishing
Pub date: September 2008
Hardcover: $21.95

No comments:

Post a Comment