While meeting with my PGW rep this season, I fell head-over-heels for a new picture book being published by Groundwood Books in August: Pink, written by Nan Gregory and illustrated by Luc Melanson. I love everything about this book, but it’s the writing that especially stands out for me, prompting me to wonder for the umpteenth time why there isn’t a "big" award given specifically for the text of a picture book. If there was, Pink would absolutely be on my list of this year’s nominees.
"Vivi is dizzy with wanting pink." Each schoolday she watches a gaggle of rich girls arrive in shades of rose from head to toe and wishes she could be like them. "Every day at school they parade their glory – from hair bows to tippy toes, every shade of perfect pink." Vivi thinks of them as "the Pinks" and imagine they must go home to warmly colorful houses every day, not to brown apartment buildings like hers, or to a mother and truck-driver father who struggle sometimes to make ends meet.
Believing that the Pinks have all the pink, Vivi complains to her parents who they tell her there’s plenty to go around and point out the shade in her very own cheeks, which to Vivi is no consolation. "Don’t they want to understand? Vivi is wild with wanting."
And here we arrive at my favorite paragraph in the book:
"One dead of winter afternoon, running an errand for her mom, Vivi finds a wonder the Pinks don’t have. It stands in the window of My Little Darling, Gifts for the Fortunate Child, all lit up like crystal – a dainty bride doll in a dress of glistening pink petals, layers and layers, each one glazed with rainbow light."
Vivi desperately wants the rosy doll but hasn’t got the money for it. Rather than sulking or begging her parents for what she knows she can’t afford, she jumps on her mother’s suggestion that she run errands for her neighbors, requesting that they pay her dimes and nickels or whatever they’d like to contribute to her cause.
Wanting to give her daughter some pink in the meantime, Vivi’s mom plans a pink outing complete with a picnic (or "pinknic" as Vivi calls it) of pink-hued foods. As the family lazes under the pink shade of a plum tree, Vivi’s father tells her about a truck he saw once, covered with twinkling lights. "At first I didn’t know what it was, all lit up like fairyland. Ever since, I’ve wanted lights like that for my truck." When Vivi asks why he doesn’t get them he explains that they’re expensive and tells her, simply, "You can’t have everything."
On the return trip Vivi takes her parents past My Little Darling, so they can all admire the perfect doll in the window, but the doll isn’t there. A Pink has beaten them to the punch. Heartbroken, Vivi wilts visibly. She trudges slowly behind her parents as they make their way home. "It’s hard to go fast when your heart is a stone."
Finally home at their apartment building, Vivi’s father sits on the steps and tries to raise her spirits by playing a tune on his harmonica. Soon the music gets under her skin and Vivi is dancing, dancing, allowing her heart to grow lighter and her fingers to wave to the doll she knows she simply can’t have. When her father finishes playing Vivi collapses beside him on the steps and agrees that wanting things makes for good music. He reminds her, again, that you can’t have everything, but Vivi realizes that, at least for that moment, she does. The end.
I love this book. I love that you think Vivi will get the doll in the end, but she doesn’t. I love that the Pinks don’t have a sudden change of heart or change of color. I love that Gregory gives us this story from Vivi’s perspective, even if it’s not in her voice – that it’s not that her parents don’t understand or can’t understand, it’s that, as Vivi sees it, they don’t want to understand. I love Melanson’s warm illustrations, which give the pages a look both airy and contemporary, one feminine but not saccharine. I love the book’s cover design, which is suitably pink enough to attract fans of girly favorites like Fancy Nancy and does indeed offer them a suitable dose of rose. What I love most, though, is that readers will come away from this book with something much warmer than pink – something that will bring a little color to their lives, in the best, least surface of ways.