By Maureen Tai, 14 February 2019
“It all started when Mom said it was time for a bath.”
Some picture books are little doses of “pick-me-up,” enchantment and whimsy in less than 1000 words, skilfully packaged within 32 pages of illustrations. Still Stuck is such a book.
An endearing, yet mildly infuriating little boy is commanded to the bath by his no-nonsense mother. You can just tell she means business by the way she stands with arms akimbo, her clenched fists on her hips. Mom pulls her child’s t-shirt over his head, literally lifting the little boy off the ground. His short legs thrash furiously as she struggles to get the garment off.
Uh oh. He’s stuck.
With his yellow t-shirt covering his entire head and his arms raised to the sky, the boy sits in a chair and ponders his fate. What if he is destined to remain in this rather unfortunate pose forever? His chubby belly exposed to the elements, or worse, to his cat, who might very well administer tickles to his bare stomach? What if he got thirsty? What if, what if, what if?
The boy then decides, in the enviable way young children flit without a care from one thought to another, that being stuck may not be such a bad thing after all. He would still be able to take his cat for walks. He imagines finding a similarly situated child, striking up a friendship and playing together. It could be rather fun! That is, until the boy tries to take off his pants…
The wonder of this book lies in its simplicity and clarity. The result of keen observation, the illustrations are humorously cartoonish (I mean this in a good way), well thought-out and brilliantly executed. The ability of a single swirly line on a page to denote a mother’s annoyance or a tumble down an incline is marvellous. In addition, the drawings skilfully complement and delightfully expand on the little boy’s ruminations about his sartorial predicament. One moment, he is a VIP, standing in front of a rapturous crowd and flanked by shaded and dark-suited bodyguards. The next, he is an exuberant Fräulein Maria in The Sound of Music, merrily prancing through a wide, open grassy field. In another spread, the boy (who is recognisable by his bright yellow t-shirt) stands at one edge of the page while another similarly stuck child in a vivid red t-shirt stands at the opposite edge. Their joyful mutual recognition – like old friends reunited – goes unnoticed by the solemn, grey passersby. When Mom eventually intervenes, it is impossible not to laugh out loud.
Does the boy come unstuck? You’ll just have to find out for yourself (and believe me, it’s worth it).
For ages 5 and up.