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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Meet the DULLARDS, written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri. Balzer & Bray, Harper. 2015. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"...  mix the gray paint and the beige paint together, and the new color was indeed perfectly dull - like oatmeal left in the pot. After they finished painting the room, Mr. and Mrs. Dullard tried not to look at the walls. But it was no use - they were completely mesmerized. All day long, the Dullards watched the paint dry.

Take a careful look at the front cover! There is a hint that this book may not be quite as dull as is intended. Wandering eyes give a hint at what's to come - and there may be some action. The dull grey endpapers set us up to be introduced to the Dullards - Mr. and Mrs., Blanda, Borely, and Little Dud. The title page does little to change our perception. There is little to enjoy about the life they lead. The parents protect their children from everything that is not dull - that is the way they feel life is meant to be lived.

Those children have a different perspective. On the first page, they are caught reading books! On the next, those books are exchanged for blank paper. Blanda accepts their fate. Borely looks perturbed. Little Dud is conspicuously upset by the exchange. Outside, too much is changing in their neighborhood to keep the parents comfortable. A move is arranged.

Their first encounter in the new neighborhood is unpleasant to them:

"Just as they brought the last box into their new home, a lady
came to the door. "Welcome to the neighborhood," she said.
"I baked you an applesauce cake!"
"Please don't use exclamation marks in front of our children,"
said Mrs. Dullard."

Calming down after the excitement of the move means watching an unplugged television set. The parents are apoplectic when they discover a room wallpapered in sunny yellow with orange and green flowers. None of the children appreciate their vanilla cones, without the cone or the vanilla. Is there about to be a revolt? As the Dullard parents search for a perfect paint color to cover up the flowered wallpaper, we get an inkling of what interests their children. Astonishing!

Watching the paint dry makes the parents somewhat inattentive to what is going on beside them. The children make their break! That will give readers a sense of what is to come ...

Humorous and thoughtful, reading this book aloud is sure to elicit giggle and conversation. Daniel Salmieri uses watercolor, gouache and colored pencils to create an environment that is as dull as dishwater, and as appealing for the three children trapped by it. The perfect greys, the boxy look of his humans, the occasional bursts of color that upset the parents' equilibrium and show the spirit of their children work perfectly in accompaniment with the inventive text. There is much to see as you wander through its pages.

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