Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review: A Ball for Daisy, by Chris Raschka

Raschka, Chris. A Ball for Daisy. 32 p. Schwartz and Wade. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9780375858611. 

As a teen services librarian, I have to admit I was less tuned into the potential Caldecott contenders than Newbery or Printz, so I didn't register an immediate reaction when A Ball for Daisy was announced as the 2012 Caldecott Medal winner. I knew Chris Raschka's work, but hadn't read his latest.

So when I pulled it off the library shelf, and thought, "A wordless picture book about a dog and her ball? Okay, looks adorable, but..." I have to admit, on first glance, I wondered what made this book stand out above the rest. I was skeptical-- would it have substance?

And then I read it, and I found the substance.

The plot is straightforward: Daisy the dog loves her ball beyond all else... until the day another dog accidentally pops it. But this deceptively simple story grows deeper with each re-reading.

It's a story of a dog and her ball, yes, but it's also a story of loss, acceptance, and healing.

Raschka's thoughtful use of color and bold, unrestrained brush strokes convey a vivid spectrum of emotions, from pure joy to confusion and grief. There is genuine heartbreak in the sequence of drawings where Daisy puzzles through the loss of her beloved ball and finally realizes that it's gone.

According to this NPR article,
The story was inspired by Raschka's son, who had a beloved ball that was destroyed by a dog. "[It happened] when he was 4 ... and it was such a devastation for him," Raschka says. "It's kind of ... the first time he experienced something he loved ending, and that he couldn't get that back."
Raschka depicts so clearly the pain of that first, incomprehensible, irrevocable loss. Happily, Daisy's story is resolved in the end as she learns to love anew, and the reader is left with a sense of satisfaction and relief. And ultimately, it's such a relatable story. Who among us hasn't lost something?

I tested this as a read-aloud with my three-year-old, and it was a big hit with him. We talked about how Daisy felt about her ball, how she felt when she lost her ball, and so on. Not only did my son like the cute doggy and her ball, but reading this book together and supplying our own words for the story presented a valuable opportunity for discussing emotions and identifying how body language can transmit certain feelings.

Reading this book with my son, I felt like hugging him a little tighter. As his mother, I want to spare him the sadness of losing something he loves, but I know can't. It will happen eventually. And when it does, I can take heart from Daisy's story-- how she learns to move on and embrace the next good thing in her life.

I highly recommend A Ball for Daisy. I could read it again and again. Good choice, Caldecott Committee.


  1. Pssst. I tried to use your links to click through and buy, but it didn't work. Looks like a HTML error.

  2. Ah, thanks... hope it's fixed now.

  3. I was so curious about A Ball for Daisy! It does look pretty darn simple on the cover, but now you've got me curious to see what's inside... thanks for a kid-tested review :)

  4. This book was very meh for me. I didn't have much of a reaction at all. The artwork didn't impress me all that much. BUT... I'm glad your son enjoyed it. If it's got kid appeal the rest doesn't matter.

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Katie and Sarah!

    Katie, it really is a simple-looking book overall... I think the key is that Raschka makes it all look very easy and effortless. But those watercolor brushstrokes must have actually been quite painstaking! And the story is simple, too- dog has ball, dog loses ball... but it's really touching.

    Sarah, you know, I was actually a bit meh on this one at first, and I can definitely see how it wouldn't speak to every reader. I think it was the range of emotions Raschka transmitted through the use of line and color that sold me on it. I'll be interested to hear Raschka's speech at the Newbery/Caldecott banquet.


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