I’m Not Sydney!
I’m Not Sydney!
One of Canada’s best-known picture book authors leaves characters from previous works - Stella, Princess Pistachio, and Houndsley and Catina - aside to introduce readers to a different group of charming children.
I’m Not Sydney! is the story of an imaginative outdoor game that seems to make for a whole a day of entertainment. Smiling boys and girls play around a big tree, and each supposes that he or she is an exotic animal. Sydney thinks of himself as the sloth that readers see on the cover of the book, hanging limply from a branch with a wide smile on his face. Pigtailed Sami has a few uncomplimentary things to say about Sydney’s idea of a good animal to imitate.
“A sloth is so lazy. It does nothing all day,” she said.
“Not true,” drawled the sloth. “I smile. I sleep. I daydream. My days are full.”
“A sloth is way too slow,” said Sami. “I would rather be a spider monkey.”
Before the sloth could blink an eye, Sami scampered up the tree.
In a moment, the little girl transforms into an agile monkey swinging through a lush jungle landscape.
Down below, another friend is there to admire Sami’s antics, but he decides he would rather be an elephant, remaining with feet firmly on the ground, where “the grass smelled of burnt toast and red earth”.
“I’M THE KING OF THE SAVANNA,” trumpeted the elephant.
The sloth and the spider monkey almost fell out of the tree.
“Whoooooah!” said the sloth. “Calm down! Life is too short
to make such a fuss.”
The three animal children are soon joined by Anna Maria who acts out being an anteater, vacuuming up ants and enjoying a few termites too; and Brigitte, who hangs upside down from a limb and thinks of herself as an insect-gobbling bat.
“I hunted mosquitoes all night,” said the bat. I must have
eaten at least six thousand. I’m full and I’m tired.
I want to sleep.” She closed her eyes.
A delicious day of make-believe ends when the sky begins to turn pink and everyone is called into supper. The story wraps up with Sami the spider monkey leaping into her bed, Edward spouting water like an elephant in the bathtub, and Brigitte standing at the window, looking at the dark sky and waiting to fly out into the night as her bat self.
Even when Sydney, Sami and the rest are teasing each other and showing off just a bit, there is a gentle good humour to all the activity here. Personalities shine through, whether the characters are in human or animal form. Because the alliteration of the children’s names with their animal personae is subtle, readers who spot it can enjoy feeling in on the joke.
Employing a slightly larger format than many of Gay’s other books, the pages of I’m Not Sydney! utilize lots of white space, and soft pastels that vary from page to page indicate the natural surroundings of each animal. Sami’s jungle in rich tones of green is alive with colourful flowers and birds, and the elephant trumpets butterflies and leaves in a spray of gold when he announces himself to the others.
Another winning work to add to Gay’s body of work, I’m Not Sydney! is highly recommended for primary level libraries.
Ellen Heaney, a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia, identifies with Sydney.