Written and Illustrated by Pascale Allamand
English Translation by Elizabeth Watson Taylor
Lothrop, Lee & Shepherd, 1979
A little bear lived on an iceberg.
The plot in a nutshell: A group of animals attempt to recolor themselves.
The polar bear sees a rainbow in the sky and wishes he could be a different color. He shares his thoughts with a whale friend and the two of them decide to travel to a place where brightly colored animals live, so they can find out how they did it. Along their travels, they pick up a tortoise and two crocodiles who want to change their colors, too. They arrive at a shore near a jungle and meet a beautifully colored parrot. They ask the parrot how he got so colorful and he tells them that he was just born that way, so that he could match the colors of the jungle. The whale rolls in red mud, the bear rubs green leaves on himself, the crocodiles roll in blue flowers and the tortoise is smeared with orange mushrooms. They are pleased with their new colors, until the parrot tells them that they will stand out in their homelands, making it hard to hide from danger. So they wash the color off and return home, with a new sense of gratitude for their original colors.
There are lots of older picture books that have aged beautifully, becoming somehow even more meaningful and relevant along the way. This is not one of those stories. I felt like I got what author/illustrator Pascale Allamand was aiming for – a simple message about being yourself, since you are the way you are for a reason. But something about the way it’s presented feels disappointing. Maybe it’s just that ‘don’t stand out’ doesn’t play well here in the 21st century, where individuality and self-expression are important.
The story is presented with the text on the left pages and the illustrations on the right. The artwork itself is pretty simplistic, but I actually really like its charming 1970’s style. I think one of the things that bothered me about it was that, in the picture where all the animals are their new colors, they all look so happy. Having the parrot rain on their parade in such a way could have been softened with a simple word or two about other ways that they could feel special while still keeping themselves safe. I wanted to like this more than I did, but it just left me feeling a little bummed.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that there are lots of things about you that you can be grateful for, even when you don’t always recognize them right away.