I can't believe I haven't reviewed The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Pinkwater before now! This is one of those books that I owned before I ever had kids. My husband grew up with Pinkwater and introduced me to him as well as NPR, where Pinkwater and host Scott Simon have been reading and reviewing picture books for years. The two men clearly delight in the books that they share and their readings are always worth listening to.
I just love this book to bits, especially as someone who has lived in four tract housing developments over the course of her life. Pinkwater's book a straightforward tale with a subtle message, wrapped in a story that somehow manages to be realistic and ridiculous at the same time. The Big Orange Splot is illustrated by Pinkwater in his unique fashion - not quite as nuanced or painterly as some other illustrators, but distinctive and capable of telling the story just as well as the words. The Big Orange Splot begins, "Mr Plumbean lived on a street where all the houses were the same. He liked it that way. So did everybody else on Mr Plumbean's street. 'This is a neat street,' they would say. Then one day . . . " A seagull carrying a can of "bright orange paint. (No one knows why.) And he dropped it (no one knows why)" right over Mr Plumbean's house."
At first the neighbors sympathize with Mr Plumbean's mess, saying, "Mr Plumbean will have to paint his house again." Mr Plumbean supposes he will, but as time goes by and he makes no move to remove the splot the neighbors change their exclamations to, "Mr Plumbean, we wish you'd get around to painting your house."
Mr Plumbean buys some paint and fixes up his roof (and whole house) in the middle of the night because that is when it is cooler. The neighbors awake to quite a surprise. Mr Plumbean's paint job only inspires him to get more creative in the cool of the night, adding a clocktower, baobab and palm trees, a hammock and an alligator. Then Mr Plumbean settles into his new oasis to enjoy a pitcher of lemonade.
The neighborhood is in an orderly uproar and they ask Mr Plumbean's next door neighbor to go and talk to him. The two share a pitcher of lemonade under the palm trees in the cool of the evening. The next morning the man has transformed his house saying, "My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams." The uproar continues, as does the change in perspective as various neighbors try to reason with Mr Plumbean.
By the end of the book the whole street is transformed and ends with these words:
Whenever a stranger came to the street of Mr Plumbean and his neighbors, the stranger would say, "This is not a neat street." Then all the people would say, "our street is us and we are it. Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.
So many books today, picture and chapter, try to encourage kids to "be yourself" and "follow your dreams." In my opinion, they end up coming off as saccharine, heavy-handed and dull. But, when a true genius puts his pen (and brush) to this subject as Pinkwater did way back in 1977, you get something worth buying and reading over and over. No wonder this book is still in print, and thank you to Scholastic for keeping it so! This is a pretty cool website I found while researching The Big Orange Splot. Visit Teaching Philosophy to Children for some great discussion questions linked to The Big Orange Splot, appropriate for all ages.
And here is a house that could happily fit on Mr Plumbean's street!