David Shannon may be best known for No, David! and other books starring his destructive, pointy-toothed alter-ego. However, in A Bad Case of Stripes, Shannon handles a more subtle introverted dilemma with similar chaotic intensity.
A Cautionary Tale
Camilla Cream is perpetually concerned with what other people think of her. This concern greatly determines her decisions on a daily basis and has kept her from enjoying things she likes and others don’t, such as eating lima beans.
Life seems pretty normal until the first day of school. Camilla breaks out into stripes. Over the course of the book, we learn that whatever people tell Camilla will change her appearance in some surreal way. The more people who find out about her condition—including doctors, medicine men, and reporters—the more chaotic her appearance becomes. Not until an old woman offers her lima beans does Camilla go back to her “normal” self. In fact, Camilla’s self confidence and disregard for others silly opinions leave her better than ever.
The Sacrifice of Fitting In
Most people have a deep desire to be popular or at least fit in with their peers. This desire can be much more ingrained in children who have not yet had the experience to put other people’s opinions in perspective.
A Bad Case of Stripes shows these children the absurdity of catering your personality to other people’s opinions. In addition, the solution to Camilla’s problem—eating a favorite food—explains how even the small things that define us are worth holding on to. In the last page of the book, Camilla is seen eating lima beans and looking far happier than any other illustration, showing us that confidence and self esteem are more important than what dress you wear on the first day of school.
Although the vibrant, surreal illustrations that accompany the text will return a child in kindergarten or preschool to a sensory world, the images may be too disturbing for younger children. In addition, younger children may not understand the more subtle plot points, such as when Camilla breaks out into stars and stripes when her school says the Pledge of Allegiance.