The little yellow bottle

The Little Yellow Bottle by A. Delaunois

Delaunois, Angèle. The Little Yellow Bottle. Illus. Christine Delezenne. Toronto: Second Story Press, 2011. Print.

The Little Yellow Bottle has a rather grand ambition for its 24 pages. It attempts to capture the heartbreaking story of a child’s encounter with war and distill it into the plainest of terms for the benefit of young readers. Marwa and Ahmad are best friends. They live in a village that has experienced war, but the war is not their own; they only want to play soccer. One day, while kicking a ball around with his friend, Ahmad encounters a little yellow bottle—a bomb fragment—which explodes, leaving him crippled. Though Ahmad learns to live his new life to the fullest, he is never able to play soccer again.

Marwa and Ahmad are both instantly relatable characters. While their names will most likely register as foreign to the Western audience for which the book is intended, Delaunois creates an instant connection between his characters and his readers; playing sports, having a best friend, wondering about adult affairs—these are near universal experiences. War is not universal, however, and details about war, while vague and generalized (Marwa and Ahmad’s country and village are not named), will educate readers about trauma and hardships endured by children just like them. Delaunois tries throughout to maintain a simplistic, child-like voice in the narration, and while there are definite cracks where his adult sensibilities seep through, the effort is noteworthy.

Delezenne’s illustrations are wonderful on their own and perfectly suited to the accompanying text. She uses a warm colour palate throughout, and distills her drawings down to the simplest elements. Her striking images will stand out to both adults and children, and they do well to enhance the emotional resonance of the story.

This is a wonderful book and a worthy one; however, it is not entirely successful in its goals. While the themes and language have been stripped down to their simplest possible incarnations, Ahmad’s trauma may still be too inherently gruesome for the intended audience. The language and reading level are appropriate for younger children up to Grade 3; however, this same age group may be left traumatized by the intensely painful events depicted in the narrative. Children who feel an initial connection to the characters will be confused and saddened by the explosion, rendered in horrific reds and browns by Delezenne’s illustrations. Older children would be better equipped to handle the mature themes; however, they would naturally yearn for greater detail than 24 pages can provide. I would advise parents, librarians, and teachers to choose carefully when suggesting or reading it to a child.

Recommended: 3 stars
Reviewed by Amy Paterson

Amy Paterson is a Public Services Librarian at the University of Alberta’s H. T. Coutts Education Library. She was previously the Editor of the Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management and is very happy to be involved in the Deakin Review and the delightful world of children’s literature.