Chuck and Woodchuck is a new picture book by Cece Bell. Huh. That name sounds familiar…. OH! She’s the author and illustrator of El Deafo, the Newberry-winning graphic novel! I love this book, and so when I first saw Chuck and Woodchuck, I grabbed it and started reading. This story follows a boy who brought a woodchuck to school for show and tell. The woodchuck begins to do incredible and zany things, but is also especially nice to the students in the class. He is then invited to come to school every day! It reminds me of an updated Officer Buckle and Gloria, where the woodchuck is unexpectedly extraordinary.
It is told in the perspective of a girl named Caroline in Chuck’s first grade class. This girl is the archetypical “every-girl”, someone who is a little awkward in her own skin. There is a cute storyline between the narrator and the pair of Chucks, as woodchuck enables Chuck to perform small acts of kindness to Caroline. As the story progresses, the acts -become more Chuck-initiated, almost as if it took woodchuck’s acts to prompt Chuck’s acts of kindness. It seems to me that Chuck has a crush on Caroline, and that it is reciprocated. It climaxes as Chuck asks Caroline to walk home together, almost with no help from woodchuck.
I really loved this book, especially with the awkward young boy-girl relationship. It almost reminds me of myself, someone who needed an excuse to talk to and interact with someone I was interested in. It captures elements of my social anxiety associated with interacting with potential romantic partners (which continues much to this day) and it could be a really great book to use with kids to show that it is ok to show acts of kindness to those you are interested in. It shows a healthy glimpse of a childhood crush, which is a great alternative to phrases such as “if he picks on you, then he likes you!”, which could reinforce unhealthy ideas about relationships.
The illustrations are adorable, and also reinforce this awkward and cute phase in childhood. It shows kids at various stages of physical development, as young children are bound to be diverse in their developmental period. The pictures are very much in the style of El Deafo, minus the bunny-people! The one hesitation that I have is the apparent lack of racial diversity among the class. There seem to be various shades of white, which offers a very narrow glimpse at the racial diversity in today’s American classrooms. Even individuals with different skin tones seem to be lacking other racial features, such as different hair types and styles. This is a small hesitation that I have when reading this book to children, as some children may not feel represented in the illustrations or story of the book. However, as the focus on this book is between two children and a woodchuck, it may be difficult to include more diversity in the actual plot of the book, but I think that more diverse illustrations would really lend themselves well to the nature of this book about being kind and taking risks to be kind to others.