Sunday, October 19, 2008

Eye of the Beholder: Daft Bat by Jeanne Willis

There was once a bat who got everything the wrong way around.

At least, that's what the wild young animals thought.

Owl sends a welcome wagon committee of youngsters to find out what sort of gift the newly arrived bat would like.

"I'd like an umbrella to keep my feet dry, please!" she responds from the tree limb where she's hanging upside down.

Baby Elephant is incensed, arguing that umbrellas are made to keep your head dry. As the conversation continues, Bat points out the virtues of an umbrella in the rain--they keep the rain out of her ears, she says--and opens the fancy new umbrella up over her feet. Goat Kid thinks she's daft. Baby Elephant thinks she's bonkers and berserk; and Owl offers to quiz her to determine if she's really crazy.

Bat sticks to her point of view. "A mountain has a flat part at the top and a pointy bit at the bottom hanging down!" she says firmly. Finally, Owl stops the clamor of disagreement from the young animals. "Have you tried looking at things from Bat's point of view?" he asks.

And of course, when the animals climb up to take a look at things while hanging upside down, they realize that Bat's world view makes sense when they look at things her way. As the rain begins to soak them all, Bat suggests that they get down from the tree, and giving them her new umbrella to keep them dry, she repairs to her cozy dry cave to, er, hang out her way.

Tony Ross's charming gray-and-pink-splashed illustrations lift this favorite fable to an appealing comic level. Like Ed Young's Caldecott Honor book Seven Blind Mice (Reading Railroad), though, the theme of looking at issues from all points of view is an essentially serious one. Daft Bat does a great job of introducing this idea with a bit of silliness and a chuckle or two.

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