An oft-heard cautionary statement comes true.
Wendell, who’s depicted with brown skin and straight black hair in the rather garish art, is a rule follower. “He never once disobeyed his parents,” reads the text that introduces the protagonist. The accompanying picture shows him equipped with every imaginable type of protective gear as he uses a skateboard to walk his dog. In an uncharacteristic moment of incredibly mild mischief-making, Wendell makes a silly face in the mirror, and (you guessed it) his “face froze like THAT!” Cox’s illustration shows Wendell facing readers, one eye screwed shut and his teeth unnaturally protruding over opposite corners of his top and bottom lips. His parents (also people of color) try to fix his face with a rolling pin and a screwdriver, to no avail. In fact, nothing can seem to thaw his face, and his speech is comically distorted for several pages. Ultimately, it’s his own acceptance of his state and his parents’ unconditional love that cause him to transform: “We love you…Just the way you are,” they say, and: “PF-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-F-T!…The pressure Wendell felt to be perfect and to follow the rules all the time—it let go.” With this letting go, Wendell’s face transforms back to his original appearance. The resolution is both heavy-handed and at odds with his parents’ easy acceptance—why did he feel so much pressure in the first place?
A funny-enough joke doesn’t make a story that sticks. (Picture book. 4-7)