Monday, June 2, 2014

Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, by Margaret Atwood

Title:  Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda
Author:  Margaret Atwood
Illustrator: Dusan Petricic
Publisher:  Bloomsbury Publishing
Year: 2007
Genre:  Fantasy
Themes:  Alliteration, Friendship, Family
Age Range:  2nd through 5th Grade

Bob was abandoned by his mother and raised by a pack of dogs. Dorinda is an orphan being taken care of (in Cinderella like fashion) by distant relatives.  Bob is bashful, Dorinda is sad and lonely.  When Donrinda decides to run away, she encounters Bob living in the bushes on a vacant block with his canine companions.  Dorinda and Bob become fast friends, with Dorinda teaching Bob how to talk and behave in public.  When a rampaging buffalo threatens the town, Dorinda and Bob's quick thinking make them celebrities.  When Dorinda's long lost parents show up, and Bob's mother has a change of heart, they each get the one thing they were lacking-a home to call their own, with people who love them.

You may know Margaret Atwood from her many novels for adults.  She is a master of speculative fiction, demonstrated most notably in her books The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake.  She has written many feminist novels, and several volumes of poetry.  I've admired her work for a long time, and like many consider her one of the most important literary voices of the 20th and 21st centuries.  So imagine my delight to find that she has written books for children!  Atwood brings all of her prodigious alacrity with language to this charming story about a bashful boy and doleful girl.

The story reads in style very much like something written by Roald Dahl, taking on rather morose subjects with a sense of whimsy and sly humor.  But what truly makes this book unique, and perfect for classroom use, if that it is written in alliteration.  The first couple of lines gives you a sense of what's to come,

 "When Bob was a baby, he was abandoned in a basket, beside a beauty parlor.  His bubbleheaded mom, a brunette, had become a blonde in the beauty parlor, and was so blinded by her burnished brilliance that baby Bob was blotted from her brain."

The entire book reads this way, with B themed sentences for Bob and D themed sentences for Dorinda.  Despite this device, the story is not at all simplistic.  As you can see from the above sample, the vocabulary is very high level, and most of the sentences flow perfectly well, despite the challenges of finding alliterative phrases that express exactly what Atwood wants to say.  Teachers in my school have used this book, and another of Atwood's that I will review later, to teach alliteration, and to discuss how to find word meanings from context clues.

Speaking of context, the illustrations by Dusan Petricic  go perfectly with the text, and provide students with some clues as to the meaning of the often long, convoluted sentences Atwood wrote.  This is not a text I would hand students to read on their own unless they were pretty mature readers, but as a read aloud this book has lots to offer.

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