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Lizette's Green Sock

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by Catharina Valckx

Catharina Valckx’s beautifully illustrated tale, Lizette’s Green Sock, was named to the United States Board on Books for Young People’s 2006 Outstanding International Booklist.
 
Out for a walk on a pretty day, Lizette finds one green sock.  She promptly dons the sock and marches on, happy and feeling lucky in her find ("You don't find a beautiful sock like this every day [5]!")  A School Library Journal review[i] asserts that the “central question” of the book is, “What is the use of one green sock?”  Valckx’s humanization of her characters (bird, mouse, and two cats) lead the reader to believe, however, that the story is more than just the tale of a girl and her treasured find.  Isaacs’ summary of the picture book puts it succinctly:  "A spunky little heroine gets her domestic dramas under control!"[ii]
 
What are the "domestic dramas?"  The dramas are shown in italics below.  Lizette's assertive, overcoming and/or affirming actions are also shown in italics.
 
   1. Denigration.  Two mean cat brothers snicker at her lone sock.  "What a dummy!" they say.  "Socks come in pairs (6)!"  Lizette determinedly looks high and low for the matching sock.
   2. Disappointment.  She can't find the second sock (12).  Lizette confides her disappointment to Mama.
   3. Disapproval and anxiety.  Mama says, "You can't wear a sock you found on the ground.  It's dirty (14)."  Lizette obediently but anxiously lets her mother wash the sock.  Will the sock survive the washing?  Lizette patiently waits to see (14-15).
   4. Tolerance.  Bert wants to wear the sock as a cap (18).  Lizette agrees that the sock makes a super cap and says she would share a second sock with Bert if she had another sock.
   5. Teasing and bullying.  Tim and Tom find the other sock, bring it to show Lizette and then run away in an unfair you-can't-catch-me game, pitting the bigger and stronger cats against Lizette and Bert (19-22).  Lizette and Bert chase the duo.  Lizette and Bert assertively confront the mean duo, asking for the sock’s return, but the sock is lost again (23).
   6. Unexpected. Mama knits a new sock (28).  Lizette and Bert are pleased to accept a substitute.
   7. Open minded.  Lizette decides to adopt Bert's idea and wear the sock as a cap.  She wears the cap to bed, smiling happily (29-30).
 
Valckx is so masterful in her personification of the animal characters in the story that a viewer could "read" the story by looking only at the pictures.  Two examples follow.  (For my complete pictures-only look at Lizette's Green Sock, please see the next page.)
 
   1. When Lizette returns home without the second sock, her disappointment is obvious.  We cannot see her face, since she is walking away from the viewer.  However, her shoulders are drooping, steps are small, and head is down.  She is obviously disappointed.  Even the flowers show disappointment; their heads are bowed like Lizette's. 
 
   2. As Mama washes the sock, Valckx shows Lizette's anxiety.  A tense look is on her face, she is wringing her hands behind her back, and she stands close by, watching nervously as Mama scrubs.  On the next page, Lizette sits on her hands in anticipation as the sock dries.  A snail in the foreground emphasizes how slowly the sock is drying.
 
There are no definitive cultural markers in this book.  Two things hint at a European setting:  the kerchief knotted around Mama's head and the hot water heater that is fixed to the wall above the sink, something not found in buildings in the U.S.
 
Instead of retaining their French flavor, the characters’ names were anglicized.  The French Lisette  becomes Lizette.  Bébert  becomes "Bert;" and "Matou and Matoche" become Tom and Tim.[i]  Some justification can be made in that Lizette keeps the sound of the French name Lisette.  Bébert, now Bert, can be short for Robert or Albert in French.  Matou, now Tom, is the French word for tomcat.[ii]  It is disappointing, however, that the editors/translators felt the need for these changes in an otherwise superb tale.
 
Valckx's bright, clear colors and deft depictions bring her characters to life.  Lizette, Bert, Tom and Tim are personalities with which readers can identify.  The story is a multi-layered masterpiece that portrays a triumphant, independent spirit and joy in living.
 
 
 
Valckx, Catharina. 2005. Lizette's green sock. New York: Clarion. Originally published in France in 2002 as La chausette verte de Lisette by l'école des loisirs.  ISBN 0-618-45298-2
 
[i] Lukehart, Wendy. Starred review of Lizette's Green Sock. School Library Journal 51 (5): 103.
[ii] Isaacs, Kathleen. 2006. It’s a big world after all. School Library Journal 52 (2): 44. 
[iii] See La chausette verte de Lisette from Amazon.fr at http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/ASIN/2211069029/qid%3D1143000751/171-8749637-7752243.
[iv] With thanks to my French friend for the explanation of names.
 
 
This review was written for a graduate course in Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman's University, International Literature for Children and Young Adults.

For more about the illustrations in this book, click on A Pictures-Only Look at Lizette's Green Sock.
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