April 10, 2018

Wash On!

Written by Michèle Marineau
Illustrated by Manon Gauthier
Translated by Erin Woods
Pajama Press
40 pp.
Ages 4-7
April 2018

Though most of us wash off any dirt and colours that stain our skin, a little twist of words and fate have colour splotches washing onto little Petronilla in Quebec author and translator Michèle Marineau's newest picture book Wash On!
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Petronilla is known in her family to have "a talent for chaos" and probably more so when compared to her perfect sister Babette.  But nothing could have prepared her mother for the twist of process when colours from the washcloth during a bath begin to transfer to Petronilla's skin and then her mother and the whole bathroom.  Joyously, Petronilla continues to exclaim, "Wash on! Wash on! Wash on!' regardless of her mother's demands she say "Wash off!" When her father, Babette and dog come to see what's going on, the colours continue to transfer from one object to another.  Although the family thinks they'll just stay in the house until Petronilla drops her new mantra, no one could foresee the weeks that would pass as the child refuses to relinquish her powerful chant.
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Finally, the family visits the doctor who declares a case of acute coloritis, a condition so contagious that the whole planet becomes infected.  But, as lovely as all the colours are, everything blends in with everything else and no one can differentiate between objects. Even their dog is hard find except when his bark alerts them to his feeding time.  That is, until they can not locate him because there is no bark.  It is only then, when she is desperate to find their dog, that Petronilla changes her tune and finds "Wash off!" just as useful in enacting change in her home and around the world.
From Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illus. by Manon Gauthier
Wash On! may be based on a silly situation in which colours are transferred rather than cleaned off but the story actually has several powerful messages hidden in that imaginative scenario.  First, Wash On! focuses on the joie de vivre of a world filled with colour. We all need a little colour in our lives, though some people need more and some need less.  But like anything, it is possible to have too much of a good thing, as everyone learns, including Petronilla.  Once the colours explode and there is no contrast and no way to differentiate objects, that joy is lost, like the dog, in an overabundance of stain.  Splashes of colour are wonderfully invigorating and therapeutic but excesses are debilitating and even harmful.  Second, Governor General award-winning author Michèle Marineau recognizes the power of children in defining the world and their need to manage their own circumstances.  Her family may think of Petronilla as chaotic but she seems to just want a hand in determining the life she will lead.

Michèle Marineau tells powerful stories in her native French language and this translation by Pajama Press's Erin Woods highlights that poignancy with merriment and spirit.  That same boldness is depicted with daring by Manon Gauthier's mixed media illustrations. Manon Gauthier, whose artwork I've raved about in Pajama Press's Elliot (Julie Pearson, 2016), All the World a Poem (Gilles Tibo, 2016), Good Morning, Grumple (Victoria Allenby, 2017) and Middle Bear (Susanna Isern, 2017), continues to do amazing things with gouache, pencil and paper collage, ever different and totally wonderful.

Wash On! may say a lot about living a life in colour but it also reminds us about moderation and having control over the lives we lead.  Young readers will laugh at the silliness of the family's situation but we can all learn a lesson or two from Petronilla and her splashy world.

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