Friday, October 15, 2010

A Review of Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

I don't always buy books straight off of blog reviews, but I have to say, Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 raved about this one in a far louder voice than you'll generally hear in her more enthusiastic reviews, and I was dying to see what all the fuss was about.

So, wow: she's really, really right!

This is the best team of lovingly mismatched friends since Frog and Toad; or, leapfrogging (heehee) to more recent standouts, since Elephant and Piggie. But why stop there? Starsky and Hutch, step aside. Oscar and Felix, forget it. You've got to meet Bink and Gollie!

Bink is a short, dandelion-haired girl, certainly the more sloppy and impulsive partner in this little duo. She looks like she's about 6. Gollie is much taller, built on Olive Oyl lines, and appears to be somewhere between 8 and 10. Gollie is more elegant in her speech as well as her appearance, and her statements are sometimes misunderstood by Bink, who lacks the vocabulary or even the syntax to follow Gollie's more erudite pronouncements. Yet Gollie clearly appreciates Bink's enthusiasm and loyalty. In fact, when these authors tell a tale of jealousy, it's the more reflective and mature Gollie who turns green, not passionate Bink.

Here's how we first meet the twosome, presented split screen. Each is wielding a cell phone—Bink on a chair with a jar of peanut butter nestled between her crossed legs and a sticky spoon in her other hand, Gollie lounging on a couch reading a book even as she talks:
"Hello, Gollie," said Bink.
"What should we do today?"

"Greetings, Bink," said Gollie.
"I long for speed."

After a page turn, Gollie adds, "Let's roller-skate!" Then we see the girls on a bench putting their skates on. Gollie sits up, lacing her skates neatly, while Bink lies on her back, tackling her laces with great and semi-effectual concentration.

I should note that, like Frog and Toad, Bink and Gollie live in their own homes, with nary an adult in sight. We don't see the houses till page 15, when we discover that Gollie lives in a Streamline Moderne tree house, while Bink lives at the foot of the same tree in a cottage that appears to have been built by the architectural firm of the Three Little Pigs.

Easy reader Bink and Gollie is divided into three episodic chapters. In the first, "Don't You Need a New Pair of Socks?" Bink buys a pair of "outrageously bright socks" that offend Gollie's sensibilities.
"Bink," said Gollie, "the brightness of those socks pains me. I beg you not to purchase them."
"I can't wait to put them on," said Bink.
The situation soon turns into an epic battle involving pancakes. Naturally.

In "P.S. I'll Be Back Soon," we learn that Gollie has her own share of imagination. She is playing a game where she chooses a country from a globe and then explores it—in her living room. ("'The finger has spoken,' said Gollie.") A note on her door addressed "To whom it may concern" warns that she is unavailable right now. Bink proceeds to knock on the door. The notes get increasingly firm, and so does Bink's determination to enter the premises and see what her friend is up to.

In "Give a Fish a Home," Bink brings home a goldfish. She's so enamored of her new pet that she doesn't notice Gollie's towering three's-a-crowd jealousy. Which starts off like this:
"Bink," said Gollie, "I must inform you that you are giving a home to a truly unremarkable fish."
"I love him," said Bink.

This book is not for the very beginning reader. It is closer to the reading level of Frog and Toad, and some parents might object to the inclusion of "big words" like "inform" and "unremarkable." I would argue that 6- and 7-year-olds will get into the spirit of Gollie's personality and will learn some cool new words while they're at it. In fact, kids that age often get a kick out of knowing "big words." Besides, the context carries the narrative along, aided concisely by the illustrations.

The success of Bink and Gollie is just as dependent on Tony Fucile's amazing artwork as it is on its DiCamillo-and-McGhee-crafted language. Much of the art is rendered in black-and-white (emphasis on the white), but the two girls and their clothes and the occasional detail are presented in color. You could argue that this approach hints that the setting is somehow imaginary, but why spoil things? I prefer to believe it's just a way of highlighting our main characters. And they deserve highlighting, if only for their apt and personable facial expressions.

I'll admit, my humor runs to the wry and dry, which is what's going on here, but I have trouble imagining the reader—young or old—who won't enjoy getting to know Bink and Gollie one way or another. The contrast between the two girls, coupled with their obvious affection, is heartwarming without being a bit schmaltzy. I highly recommend this book.

Update: See also Jules's post at Seven Imp, which shows more of the artwork.

1 comment:

Mandy said...

Hi! I'm a book aunt too! Pleased to come across your blog. I haven't read anything other than this review on your blog yet, but I was utterly delighted to find Bink & Gollie in a charity shop in the UK recently. How anyone could get rid of this book, I'll never know. It is an amazing read, as is your review. Love both. My daughter is nearly five, not quite able to read this book yet, but we loved sharing it at bedtime this evening. such a wonderful role model for girls. Will settle down with a cuppa to read more of your reviews.