December 01, 2021

Oliver Bounces Back!

Written by Alison Hughes
Illustrated by Charlene Chua
North Winds Press (Scholastic Canada)
32 pp.
Ages 3-7
September 2021
Oliver is not having a good day. From struggling with his tangled hair and his favourite shirt being in the wash, his baby sister Annie throwing mushy banana in his face and the burning of his toast, the day doesn't start out well. In fact, it gets worse.
From Oliver Bounces Back! by Alison Hughes, illus. by Charlene Chua
With each new mishap, from breaking a shoelace and Carter taking Oliver's blue spot on the reading-time carpet, Oliver's mood slips from annoyed to irritable and then angry. With each new struggle, Oliver's circumstances are recounted through testimonials from his parents, his classmates, the bus driver and his teacher, attesting to the impact these unexpected troubles have on the little boy.
From Oliver Bounces Back! by Alison Hughes, illus. by Charlene Chua
But, he still is able to hope that the day will get better, and he finds small successes help him through, as does an amazing bouncing apricot that helps him see that he could bounce back too, metaphorically and physically. 

So I tried to make the day get better. I drew a picture. I helped out. I thought of my family and friends, and how nice they were being. I even laughed thinking about my sister chucking that banana at my head! Bullseye!

Resiliency has become a big buzz word in the last decade though teaching someone to become resilient is near impossible. However, what is possible is to share strategies that can improve resiliency and author Alison Hughes notes several of these in a page titled "Learning to Bounce" at the end of the story. Strategies like connecting with others, keeping things in perspective and actual bouncing are all demonstrated somewhere in Oliver Bounces Back! but so discretely that it never reads like a PSA or a directive to a child. Young readers will certainly sympathize and empathize with the boy and will see that he is able to pull himself out of that bad day and make it into something better but they won't feel like they are being schooled. However, they will remember a strategy that might work for them when they too are faced with a day when everything seems to go wrong.
From Oliver Bounces Back! by Alison Hughes, illus. by Charlene Chua
Because key figures in Oliver's day give their takes on what happens and Oliver's reactions to those circumstances–it feels like a reporter asking bystanders what they witnessed before talking to Oliver–Oliver Bounces Back! offers different perspectives on the child's day and shows young readers that they are part of something bigger beyond their own troubles. Oliver is part of several supportive communities, at home and at school, that will help him get through anything, if he asks and listens. Even Charlene Chua's artwork promotes the idea that, though Oliver's troubles may seem insurmountable to him, they are small enough to be manageable and put aside or seen through a different lens, thereby allowing coping and recovery. The brightness of her digital art, the affective faces of the children, and the progression of Oliver's reactions as he struggles and overcomes contribute to the message of childhood troubles survived.
Without instructing children how they should become resilient, let Alison Hughes, Charlene Chua and Oliver demonstrate that bad days happen but, with a few tools, it's possible to bounce back from any challenges that need to be faced.
From Oliver Bounces Back! by Alison Hughes, illus. by Charlene Chua

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