The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness, the oxymoronically titled book, written and illustrated by Collin Thompson, follows a somewhat typical young boy named George, in the not quite conventional, but not uncommon, situation of living solely with his loving grandmother who can’t quite connect with George unlike Jeremy, a 3-legged dog resembling George. The book explores social issues of isolation within youth, and effects of pets and animals as an alternative fulfilment to loneliness, using reference to common ideologies, representations of certain groups, differentiating potential readings and a gradual change in visual textual features to encourage the authors preferred aspects of modern societal and cultural beliefs and expectations and challenge the undesirable aspects. The author’s perception and opinions on society is somewhat progressive, referring to relative and upcoming social issues and would be an acceptable choice of a children’s book to be shared with `kindergarteners of Goodstart Early-Learning to introduce modern social issues to todays’ youth.
This book, in its essence, is about a young boy, George, who lacks a conjugal family and close friends leaving a very strong sense of loneliness within him. Then Jeremy comes along, a not-so-average dog who George resonates with significantly and a great bond between George, his grandma and Jeremy is formed, filling that space of emptiness and loneliness. This encourages the dominant reading that pets, and affectionate animals are very well at inducing a feeling of belongingness and filling the void of loneliness. This is also seen throughout the story as George’s grandma slowly starts to connect with George breaking down their barrier of isolation as they work together to help Jeremy.
An alternate reading being another reading that isn’t seen by everyone but is still accepted by most of society and societal beliefs are the confidence that such pets like Jeremy, who have such a companionate bond with their humans, can fill the position of family and even parents in the aspect of affection and admiration. Obviously, a pet would be unable to literally support a family, financially or legally, but just as seen in modern society, pets are very much recognised as part of the family and are always able to emotionally support their family, encouraging happiness and joy within their owners just as Jeremy did with George.
A resistant discourse residing within the story is the willingness to remove the unwanted or unneeded purely because they are unwanted. In this case, it was the confusion of the office lady in the animal shelter who encouraged George to get a less scruffy, better looking, 4-legged dog over Jeremy who she considered as disabled and unwanted and was acceptant of his euthanasia which induced this reading. Although social acceptance of the recent past may have considered this an alternate reading and agreed with the receptionist of the animal clinic, new generations and new societal beliefs accepted by most disagree with this seen by the ever-increasing popularity in no-kill shelters, animal fosterers and forever home finders for domesticated animals without homes.
Representations of a diversity of groups are found throughout the story, reasoned primarily to create a connection with the audience and make it easier to understand from a kindergarten-aged child’s perspective. George is used as a medium for the most obvious representation of groups mainly surrounding lonely youth and orphans. For whatever reason, George’s parents are not in the picture and this has led to his disconnection from those around him and as seen in modern society, may be a reason of being forcefully disconnected by others such as being treated differently or bullied because he’s not your nuclear boy in a perfect home with two parents.
There is also the group representation of the loving grandmother who looks after their grandchild, trying her best to take care of George on her own. This representation introduces a positive outlook on this group as it is an ever-increasing group today with many grandparents often having to take parenting roles of their grandchildren due to lack of availability parents or lack of parents in general.
Like the readings, the ideologies predominantly revolve around animal companionship and treatment of animals along with some gender stereotyping included. An ideology that’s had a change in continuity as new generations start to prosper into adulthood and gain active roles in society but still prevalent is the lack of care towards disabled and injured animals seen in the story through the actions of the receptionist. Just as stated in the resistant reading, the lady was willing to let the dirty, 3-legged dye over a clean ‘healthy’ dog.
There is also the belief that everyone should feel loved. This is suggested by the overall positivity of the end circumstances with all characters of the story feeling overwhelmed in joy at the fact that they are no longer alone, but all have each other, supported and loved.
The common ideology that women are the caring, loving gender is very much encouraged throughout the story and in societal beliefs, both past and present. This sort of ideology has always been a common belief due to a mother’s stereotypical role during the years of offspring youth when the mother looks after the children, but it also is slowing changing as the gender roles slowly intermix. In the story, Georges grandmother undertakes this role to look after George and take on a mothering figure role.
Visual Textual Features
As the audience is introduced to the characters and storyline, there is a surrounding visual structure encouraging the feeling of loneliness using bland colours and isolating the characters, who themselves are small in comparison to later in the book. This effect is increased greatly by the open space within the first couple pages that gradually starts to fill in as George meets Jeremy and they start bonding.
After the adoption, the low saturation starts to increase as intensity of happiness and peacefulness increases. These emotions are also induced by the green colours that take up generous portions of each illustration.
A majority of the beginning includes use of high angle shots of the characters but that changes once George meets Jeremy creating a sense of equality and triumph.
When writing The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness, Colin Thompson continuously introduced relevant cultural beliefs and principles that are generally acceptable by defining characters using common representations of groups, making use of dominant and alternative readings, referring to common ideologies and using gradual change of visual styles and features. This, ultimately, has aided in creating an ideal picture book to be read at Goodstart Early-Learning due to its overall positive and accurate introduction of modern social beliefs.