Written and Illustrated by Peter Brown
Little, Brown and Company, 2014
Bobby had a big problem at school. Her name was Ms. Kirby.
The plot in a nutshell: A boy thinks his teacher is a monster.
Bobby thinks Ms. Kirby is a monster because she stomps, roars and is harsh with him when he throws paper airplanes in class. He likes to go to the park to forget his teacher problems, but one day he visits the park and sees Ms. Kirby sitting on a bench. They greet each other awkwardly and agree that it’s weird to see each other outside of school. When the wind blows her hat away, they both chase after it and she calls him a hero when he catches it. She shows him how she enjoys quacking with the ducks and he joins in. He shows her his favorite spot in the park, high up on a hill, and she gives him a piece of paper to make into an airplane. He throws it and it dips and dives and zooms on its way down to the ground. They agree it was the best paper airplane flight ever. When they say goodbye, he sees her in a totally different light.
Author/illustrator Peter Brown tackles the formidable and horrifying concept that teachers have lives outside of the classroom (gasp!) and may also be reasonable and normal people. On his website, he shares the story of one of his own teachers who, although strict and humorless, made a profound impact on his life by noticing his artistic ability and referring him to the art teacher for more instruction. In this story, we can see that Ms. Kirby actually has reason to be upset with Bobby, owing to his classroom behavior. I like that we see them push through the awkward moment of meeting each other in the park, because it shows that running away from something awkward is rarely the best plan.
Mr. Brown’s artwork is done in India ink, watercolor, gouache and pencil, with digital composition and coloring. The illustrations are mostly confined to shades of blue, green, brown and peach and the way that he shows us Ms. Kirby through Bobby’s eyes really works. She begins the book as the monster that he sees, sort of like an upright dinosaur in a dress. As he gets to know her, her appearance gradually changes until we see that she is just an ordinary woman and he sees her for who she really is. I love that she connects to him through the paper airplane, which was what set them at odds to begin with.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that everyone has lots of different facets to their personality and if you’re only seeing the bad ones, it’s probably a good idea to look a little deeper.