all the wrong people
Cover illustration
See permission.
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.
All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem:  An Inappropriate Book for Young Ladies (or, Frankly, Anybody Else)

written and illustrated by Laurie Rosenwald

There’s no shortage nowadays of chirpy books stressing the importance of self-esteem and self-confidence and all the self- things that would fit under the slightly worn banner of “You go, girl.” While there’s certainly a place in the world for the upbeat, this raft of titles seems to offer a rather homogeneous approach to affirmation that may put off as many young people as it bolsters with their implication that they’re letting down the side by doubting themselves. Now comes author-illustrator Rosenwald with a contrasting approach in this volume that tackles relevant issues of identity and self-knowledge, but does so in an irreverent mosaic of collage, weirdness, whimsicality, and sardonic observation that suggests a stormy meeting between the Post Secret project and beauty magazines.

The book nails its colors to the mast right from the start in its opening text spread, a combination of intro and teaser, that markets itself a little differently: “If you’ve ever felt that you don’t deserve bottled water, this book is for you. . . . If you’ve ever stolen a lipstick, this book is for you.” As the title swings into its stride, each spread offers a single feature/chapter/celebration/vent, with a blend of playfulness and seriousness throughout in the brief chunk of text and energetic, childlike layout decorated with reified photographs, assembled paper shapes, and zesty scribbles. Overall, the message is a resistance to popular dogmas that homogenize and degrade, starting with self-esteem itself: “Interesting people are full of doubt. . . . I think self-esteem is a myth perpetrated by psychologists, movie stars, magazines, and the pharmaceutical industry. They want you to think something’s wrong with you because you don’t have self-esteem like you ‘should.’”

Rosenwald’s main tactic in conveying this message is humor that’s both loopy and slightly caustic. Hilarious entries include a Mad Libs–style fill-in-the- blank pastiche of hackneyed advice to young women (“Don’t let any of those ______ from school pressure you into _____”) and Rosenwald’s own long list of what’s out (“Running”) and what’s in (“Skipping”); an unusual and goofily truculent horoscope (“Pisces are tiny little insignificant crybabies who always think they are being criticized. They’re right”), and a savage indictment of magazines and self-help books (“You need them like a turkey needs the ax”), along with a savagely funny parody of same (“Why I Don’t and You Shouldn’t Either!” screams a headline). While readers will undoubtedly find any number of things to argue with in the book’s opinionated assertions (the statement that “guys shouldn’t drink tea or eat soup” because “it makes them look like a wuss” will definitely get some challenges, for instance), it’s pretty likely that the book would rather girls took material sternly to task than merely accepting it unquestioningly anyway, since it repeatedly encourages readers to challenge whatever dictates they encounter.

Beyond that exhortation, it offers readers both a model and inspiration for creative self-characterization; it’s like a MySpace page married to the old-school print rigor of a ’zine, and its friendly “anybody can do this” design will have YAs reaching eagerly for the art supplies. Ultimately, its features will provide food for entertainment and for thought. Girls will want to share it with one another, and maybe, if parents are lucky, share it with them; then they’ll go on to make their own.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

all the wrong people

Cover image by Laurie Rosenwald from All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem:  An Inappropriate Book for Young Ladies (or, Frankly, Anybody Else) ©2009. Used by permission of Bloomsbury Children's Books.

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This page was last updated on February 1, 2009.