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Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Whatever Wanda Wanted

Author and Illustrator: Jude Wisdom
Publisher: Gullane Children's Books, 2002

What an exciting library find. Bold, brassy illustrations and a story that defied our expectations, a fantastic picturebook. 

Edie (nearly 4) was drawn to this book on the library shelf based on the bright pink cover (sigh!). Yet another princess book I thought; it looked a bit like The Little Princess: I Want my Potty by Tony Ross, 1986, which is no bad thing, but seen it all before (the bratty princess narrative, doting parents, does something wrong, reforms, but is still a bit bratty at the end, because we wouldn't completely want them to reform...or would we?). Whatever Wanda Wanted looks to fit this model initially, and then a shift in the story happens when spoilt, obnoxious, precocious and rude Wanda demands a kite from an magically appearing shop.
Ignoring the warning of the salesman (who's sporting a 70s style tunic and gottee) Wanda takes the kite and is blown away to a desert island. This was quite an exciting extreme twist from the usual half-mistakes made by other bratty princess types (The Little Princess, Peppa Pig, Little Miss stories etc).

The abstract magical realism style illustrations should have really alerted me to the bizarre turn the book might take from the start, with the mix of crayon, pastel and collage producing this super garish and bold page set.The visuals in this book certainly look and feel very original, again, refreshing. 

And so for the twist: Wanda lands on a desert island wailing and complaining about her lack of possessions, especially the lack of access to television. (we liked the dry humour here). So she has a cry, then stands up declaring 'I WILL SURVIVE.' Wanda's own ingenuity and self-drive mean she finds food, shelter and clothing, and she grows 'to love her new life.' (what a turn around: an anti materialism, pro-feminist message!) After making friends with a convenient- plot- device- whale, she catching a ride on the whale's back to return home. On her arrival home her parents are delighted to see Wanda, but have had to sell all their belongings in order to pay for her search party. Wanda assures her parents that she'll be able to knock them up some new furniture, decreeing 'there's more to life than things!'  And then to raise the strong independent woman rhetoric a little higher still, the closing page of the book sees Wanda giving lectures on survival skills and the 'the Beginning' positively reinforced.

As with Princess Smartypants  and The Worst Princess I personally like this brand of post-feminist children's literature to counterbalance 'The Disney princess' (though having recently seen Moana... 

...I'm pleased that there seems to be a wider shift in the sand toward rolling out this representation of strong, independent women with more consistency, sincerity and scope anyway).  

Whatever Wanda Wanted is a great, empowering pre-schooler read, also enjoyed by my KS1 aged son. Recommended target age then 3-6 years. 

And just as an add on, another library find from last week, The Princess and the Dragon by Audrey Wood is also worth a look, again inverting the conventional gender stereotypes. A disruptive, misbehaving princess swaps place with a passive, effeminate dragon, and with the princess and the dragon maintaining the swap at the end, thumbs up for finding true happiness.    

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