Monday, August 24, 2009

Too Much Strawberry Junky Business

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher
by Molly Bang
Aladdin Papberbacks, ©1996
Four Winds Press, ©1980

The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher is a suspenseful and delightful picture book. This Caldecott Honor winning wordless picture book follows the Grey Lady’s frightful trek home from the produce market with a pint of fresh, juicy strawberries. Upon leaving the market she is being relentlessly stalked by a greedy perpetrator known only as the “Strawberry Snatcher.”

As the book opens, the reader is instantly attracted to the pleasure upon the Grey Lady’s face as she purchases her strawberries and heads home. However, subtle shading techniques and figurative motifs in Bang’s illustrations foreshadow horrible events to come. For instance, as she is walking out of the door from the market, the shop behind her looks dark and foreboding. Subsequently, as she is heading down the sidewalk on the next page, we see a shocking and sinister face peering around the corner, intent on following her. This is the dark element or the evil figure that just might mean doom for the Grey Lady. He follows her by the shops in town, skateboards after her when she boards the bus, and he continues to follow her into an oddly beautiful swamp, an eerily daunting forest, and finally into a foggy grey clearing where the book reaches a startling climax.

For a wordless book, this story is an engaging page-turner. The rich and textured illustrations employ a vivid color palette which in turn creates a landscape that harnesses the driving energy of the story. The decision to illustrate the Grey Lady as a subtle, soft figure and the Strawberry Snatcher as a bizarre and freakish creature enhances the elements of the story. The Grey lady blends in with the landscape. You get the feeling she has lived in this area for a long time. It is her intimate knowledge of the environment which allows her to outwit her attacker again and again. The strange and colorful appearance of the Strawberry Snatcher illustrates he is an interloper on the local landscape. His fiendish features compared with the deep laugh lines and warm wrinkles of the Grey Lady further demonstrate the dichotomy which is the overall theme of the story: good vs. evil, the honest old lady vs. the devilish thief trying to wrest her most sacred treasure.

The wondrous artistry of this book makes it a triumphant yet spooky achievement. Readers are given the framework for constructing their own imaginative journey. Taking cues from facial expressions, environment, movement, and other illustrative devices, the reader can feel for themselves what emotions are conjured up and decide for themselves how to feel about the book's resolution. This is one of the great things about wordless picture books; there is so much more room for interpretation. The rise and fall of the plot of this book is one that can be appreciated by young and old alike and the pictures themselves can be appreciated for their detail and richness. Overall, I would recommend this book for readers of all ages.

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