Bill in a China Shop

Cover

Written by Katie McAllaster Weaver, Illustrated by Tim Raglin

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2003

Once there was a bull named Bill

who felt a certain thrilling chill

each time he saw a china shop –

the teacups made his heart flip-flop.

The plot in a nutshell: A bull has difficulty purchasing a teacup.

Every china shop that Bill passes has a policy prohibiting bulls from entering the shop. Finally he finds a shop with no sign in the window, so he goes inside and immediately sees a teacup he loves. He steps carefully through the shop, but bumps into a display stand of decorative china plates and it wobbles, but doesn’t fall. A clerk rushes over to ask him to leave and Bill, upset and nervous, knocks over a vase. Startled by the sound of breaking china, he stumbles into some a cabinet with china figurines and knocks them over, too. The clerk repeats that he is not allowed and Bill points out that he just wants to purchase the teacup. When the clerk refuses to get it for him, Bill stomps his feet, causing an avalanche of china plates, cups and vases crashing to the floor. Just then, three old ladies enter the store and survey the damage. The clerk apologizes for the mess and tells the ladies that the bull won’t leave. The ladies comfort sobbing Bill and admonish the clerk for his rudeness, then they pay for all the damage and buy Bill’s cup for him. When he gets home, Bill invites the ladies to tea at his house to thank them.

I was drawn to this book on the library shelf based on both its clever title and the depiction of a very dapper looking bull on its cover. This is the first picture book from author Katie McAllaster Weaver and it’s an impressive debut. The rhymes flow very naturally and are filled with wonderful imagery. The entrance of the three prim and proper ladies made me certain that things were about to get worse for poor Bill, so when they actually supported him and intervened on his behalf, I was so pleasantly surprised. I particularly like that they backed him up simply because they saw that he was hurting. What a lovely thing to do!

All I want is to have tea at Bill's house now.

All I want is to have tea at Bill’s house now.

Illustrator Tim Raglin uses pen and ink and watercolor to bring us into Bill’s world, which seems every bit as elegant as Bill himself, in his top hat and bow tie. We see him taking great care to be cautious as he walks through the shop and then getting more and more stressed as the inevitable accidents happen. The shopkeeper’s character shows in his face, which is pinched and surly, giving us even more reason to root for Bill. There are certainly lessons you can draw here about prejudice and discrimination as well. The author includes an interesting note on the acknowledgements page about the possible origins of the phrase ‘bull in a china shop.’ This book is exceedingly likeable.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you always have the chance to choose kindness, patience and understanding over anger and frustration.

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