Living in Montana at this time of year, I'm longing for summer. Frances, who spent the first 3 1/2 years of her life in Arizona, keeps asking when it will be summer so she can wear flip-flops. Sadly, just yesterday we had another three inches of snow, so summer won't be arriving any time soon. But in Really Truly Bingo, summer is almost palpable.
Bea wants to play with her mom. Her mother is busy, so she tells Bea to go play outside. And when Bea replies that there's nothing to do, her mother tells her to use her imagination (something she may regret later!). So Bea plods outside and waits for inspiration to strike her. Soon a talking dog named Bingo peeks out of the flowers. Bingo tells Bea "Let's do something we're not supposed to do." Uh-oh. You can see where Bea's imagination might take her.
They begin by making a fort in the melon patch, including digging a hole to rest in. Bea goes in to get pillows and blankets for the fort. Her mother absentmindedly asks her if she's found something to do. but doesn't really listen to Bea's answer that she's playing with a talking dog. The fort is perfect, but Bingo decides he's hungry. Bea tries to do the right thing - she tells Bingo they shouldn't eat between meals. But "she couldn't resist the look in his eyes", so a snack is produced.
Things really begin to go downhill when Bingo decides he's so hot that he absolutely must run in the sprinkler, even though Bea has been told not to do so. They run through the sprinkler, then slide on the grass and through the mud. It's a perfect summer afternoon! They even weave daisy chains, bringing back summer memories for all of us. Then Bea's mother comes out to survey the damage - ruined melon patch, crushed flowers, dirty pillows. All she can do is blare Bea's full name "Beatrice P. McGonagal"!
It's at this moment when things shift. In the face of her mother's frustration, Bea turns to reassure Bingo, and the reader sees the scene from the mother's point of view. Bea's arm is not around the shaggy dog we have seen pictured up to this point, but empty air. Now it's obvious to young readers that this dog has come out of her own imagination. While we all know there are no talking dogs in real life, readers have accepted its presence previously in the book because Bea accepted Bingo's presence. Suddenly we see that all of the plans for doing things they weren't supposed to do came from Bea, not Bingo.
As a parent, I've certainly been where Bea's mother is at the end of this story. I've been busy, and told Frances and/or Gloria to play by themselves, or just not checked on them as frequently as I ordinarily do because I've gotten caught up in something. At these times, I remind myself of the motto "You get what you pay for" - if you are too busy to play with the children, you may end up with a mess like the one Bea's created. Bea has done what her mother told her - she used her imagination to create an activity to occupy the afternoon. Bea's mother can only shake her head ruefully and go inside after instructing Bea to clean up.
The illustrations were created using a technique cited in the front of the book as gouache resist (the author has a great tutorial on how this happens here). The end result of this technique is perfectly suited to this subject matter. The resist makes the paint almost bead up, giving a hazy impression. You can feel the oppressive heat, the shimmering light through these bright colors. Kvasnosky has chosen the colors of perfect mid-summer, before the heat dries everything to a crisp. The melon patch is full of large, ripe melons and the daisies are still jaunty.
Kvasnosky also uses sharp black lines in this technique. The result is that all of the elements that make up the illustrations are bold and distinct. These lines make the haziness of the background and colors stand out, giving the background less definition by comparison. In a way, this technique wasn't just the perfect choice for the book about a hot summer day. It's also the right choice for a book about imagination in everyday life. The crisp lines of reality stand out against the haziness of Bea's imagination. It is a beautifully composed and illustrated book.
I am longing for summer and my own vegetable garden, and this book helps soothe that longing. Not only does it recreate a summer afternoon, but Kvasnosky also helps recreate the feeling of childhood - its innocence and creativity.
Really Truly Bingo. Laura McGee Kvasnosky. Candlewick Press, 2008.
borrowed from Lewis & Clark library