The Picture Book Buzz

Oswald Messweather - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

At one point or another everyone feels anxious. Afraid and worried about consequences of their actions or events beyond their control. This past year, all the uncertainty, deaths, changes, and isolation has exacerbated or perhaps created these feelings. Although this book was written before Covid was even a mere blip, it comes as a timely release. I get to offer you a sneak peek at a wonderful picture book about a young boy's struggle to manage his obsessive worrying and anxieties.


Oswald Messweather


Author: Dimity Powell


Illustrator: Siobhan McVey


Publisher: Wombat Books 2021


Ages: 4-7


Fiction


Themes:

Mental health, fears, coping, OCD, school, resilience, and empowerment.


Synopsis:

Mess and disorder upset Oswald.

They make his legs jiggle and his palms itch

— all the time.

Counting his crayons helps,

but it is so exhausting.

How can Oswald untangle

the mess of worries in his head?


Opening Lines:

Oswald Constantine Dorian Messweather

hated his name more than

brussel sprouts.

It was clumsy and

confusing.

And …


Why I LOVED the book:

First of all, this is not a "how to book," written to guide those living with or through OCD. In fact, the book itself never specifically names any disorder. Leaving it open and applicable to many situations and experiences.


Oswald Messweather has a very hard time dealing with messes. Oh my gosh, just now, typing in the name, it dawned on me that Dimity Powell is a genius! Of course a child trying to weather the turmoil of messes would be called - Messweather!


Poor Oswald cringes from his mother's carefree pancake slinging, his father's untidy tool shed (Oswald has a point here - as his dad is shown with a nail in his shoe!) and most of all his big brother's "Bear Pit" (i.e. room). Even just thinking about them makes "Oswald’s palms itch and his legs jiggle." I love Siobhan McVey's representation of the "tangle of swirling doubts" that messes cause - as a whirling, roiling sea and black squiggly, wiggly lines.

Text © Dimity Powell, 2021. Image © Siobhan McVey, 2021.


The next illustration of a tangled trail of doubts carrying along a hodgepodge of kitchen & shop messes and leading to that "ROOM" (I cringe every time I look at it), while Oswald appears to float uncontrollably, is ingenious. Dimity and Siobhan do such an amazing job of placing the reader into Oswald's shoes, both visually and aurally. Helping the reader understand Oswald's need to find something to help calm his mind.

Text © Dimity Powell, 2021. Image © Siobhan McVey, 2021.


For Oswald, this involves counting his crayons. Dimity creates a wonderfully lyrical, yet precise, refrain that demonstrates Oswald's repetitive behavior (OCD):


Oswald would line up his crayons,

twist them this way and that,

and wipe them clean.

Then he would count. 1 … 2 … 3…


At the core of Oswald's worry, is the fear of horrible consequences, a worry that something bad might happen if he doesn't count his crayons. Unfortunately, for Oswald, messes and possible bad consequences lurk everywhere, especially at school. And his incessant, repetitive counting leaves poor Oswald exhausted. At the climax, Oswald faces a team project - conducting a floating experiment, with paper boats, oranges, and eggs:

Text © Dimity Powell, 2021. Image © Siobhan McVey, 2021


No spoilers. But know that the solution, spurred by his teacher, is perfect and reminds me of a slightly similar one in Juan has the Jitters by Aneta Cruz. Wait until you see the next couple of spreads! Where Oswald's "head fill[s] with colour and designs," pushing out the tangled worries and swirling doubts. I appreciated the personal power that Oswald discovers on this day, which will hopefully help him in the future. Although he still deals with his brother's "Bear Pit" with the same compulsive behavior, there is one important difference.


This is not a guide for teachers or parents, but a window for them and classmates to perhaps gain understanding, or at least compassion. Maybe even a mirror for kids with similar fears and worries, or simply compulsions, to see themselves in a book. To know they are not alone. While not offering a solution, the book ends with just a little less compulsive behavior. Overall this is a wonderful book addressing an aspect of mental health infrequently seen in picture books but increasing occurring in our society and schools. As well as a book about empowering a child. I hope Oswald finds himself in many libraries, schools, and homes!


And for the parents, teachers, and writers reading my blog, here is a poignant meme:

which "resonates strongly with Dimity and not just because she loves ice cream! She too shares a tendency to obsess over minutiae, often losing sight of the bigger beautiful picture. "


It is really hard, sometimes, not to compare the sprinkles!


[from Dimity's website]


Resources:

- make your own paper boat (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lx8_xwUO1IY&ab_channel=HowToMakeideas)

or paper canoe (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6V09L6OZwc&ab_channel=ColorsPaper) to float or share with friends.


- read Anxious Charlie to the Rescue by Terry Milne. How does the Dachshund, Charlie, deal with his fears and anxiety? Then read Juan has the Jitters by Aneta Cruz. How does Juan's teacher help him? How is this different or similar to Oswald's teacher?


- for further information, check out these OCD facts and links (https://dimitypowell.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/OCD-Facts-and-Links-for-Info-Support.pdf) and (https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/ocd.html).


- also see the teachers' guide (https://dimitypowell.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/TEACHERS-Notes-OSWALD-MESSWEATHER-February-2021.pdf).


If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's joint interview with Dimity Powell (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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