Sometimes it is very well hidden or it might be the first thing you notice about an individual. It's a condition which can appear suddenly or it may have formed over a long period of time. Whatever the circumstances, you want to do everything you can to reverse the course which this person seems to be following. Their self-esteem is at rock bottom.
These children (and adults) need to realize there are choices. Every person has the potential to be who they want to be. The Bad Seed (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, August 29, 2017) written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald takes the definition of two words and turns it around for readers. It shows those readers who feel their lives are locked in stone a way to break free.
I'm a bad seed.
A baaaaaaaaaaad seed.
As the seed walks by the other seeds they point and confirm what he believes, out loud and in whispers when they think he can't hear them. He hears every word. In case readers might not believe he is as truly bad as everyone thinks, he lists his dastardly deeds.
Of his ten stated offenses here are several:
I never wash my hands. Or my feet.
I lie about pointless stuff.
I cut in line. Every time.
Of course the entire list of his faults is considerably longer because he is the worst kind of character. He freely admits he has absolutely no control over his actions.
At this point we are privy to his backstory. He grows up happy among the numerous members of his family on a sunflower. As the sunflower ages, disaster strikes in the form of sunflower seeds being harvested. To the seed's horror he finds himself in a bag and barely escapes with his life because of a huge spit.
As his tale continues, from then on his attitude is NOT of gratitude. His aimless drifting on the streets hardens his heart. Surprisingly enough a huge decision is finally made by this bad seed. He's tired of being a cranky creature. Does he still do bad things? Does he do good things? Let's just say he likes what he's hearing now much better.
The play on the two words, bad seed, is brilliant on the part of Jory John. By definition a bad seed has no hope of redemption; their condition is a part of their essential nature. His repetition of key phrases emphasizes the deep-seated mood of this seed. As John reveals the conditions placing this seed in the bad category and the reason for his attitude, our understanding is increased. We realize, like the seed does eventually, hope is present. After the seed's change of heart, John makes several profound statements. Here are a few more sentences which serve as examples of the rhythm created by Jory John's writing.
But I can hear them. I have good hearing for a seed.
How bad am I?
You really want to know?
The unique illustrative technique, scanned watercolor textures and digital paint, used by Pete Oswald is evident on the matching dust jacket and book case. The limited color palette of the faded background buildings, which is employed in many parts of the book, focuses our attention on the seeds. Evidently the bad seed is wickedly happy about using the crayon in his hand to announce the condition of his character. To the left, on the back, in a different view of the same spot, mother seeds are standing with their children. They are declaring two different opinions about the bad seed. One, in the first bit of comedy, is covering her baby's eyes.
On the rustic red endpapers thick white outlines of other seeds show every single one of the twenty-eight smiling. The bad seed is frowning. (Careful readers will note a change in the closing endpapers.) The thicker, matte-finished paper superbly highlights the images made by Oswald.
With each page turn we are treated to different perspectives. When the bad seed declares
A baaaaaaaaaaad seed.
all we see is his eyes, freckles and frown along with a portion of his body above these facial elements. When the other seeds are talking it's a collage of moments spread over two pages. Hilarity is part of the pictures in Oswald's interpretation of the words. When we read
I cut in line. Every time.
three unhappy seeds, two of which are voicing their disgust, are waiting in line to go to the bathroom. The bad seed cuts ahead and opens the door to a porta-potty. What makes readers pause, though, is the attention to details; the variety of expressions on the seeds' faces, their tiny arms and hands, the shifts in point-of-view and the use of color to denote mood.
One of my many favorite illustrations is the large sunflower taking up nearly a single page. In the center of the blossom is a collection of seeds, the bad seed's family. They are cheerfully engaged in a variety of activities; playing tambourines, maracas, a guitar and a horn, painting, writing in a journal, laughing, talking and singing. This bright yellow flower at the edge of a leafy stem is like the sun itself in a pale blue sky.
As soon as you read The Bad Seed written by Jory John with illustrations by Pete Oswald you'll get the urge to share it with others as soon as possible. The text and images work so splendidly together, it invites you to read it aloud. I can't wait to see what students think of it this week. I'm know there will be discussions. Please make sure you have a copy on your personal and professional bookshelves.
To learn more about Jory John and Pete Oswald and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. Pete Oswald maintains an Instagram account. Enjoy the book trailer.