A girl alters a simple phrase and changes the world.
Petronilla sits in the bathtub. “Wash on!” she says, and although her mother tries to correct her (“Not wash on, sweetheart….Wash off”), Petronilla’s phrase sticks and the physical world obeys. “Wash off,” natch, would have meant messes coming off; “wash on” means that colors begin to transfer everywhere. First they’re on Petronilla’s cheek and two washcloths; next they’re splotching around the bathroom and into other rooms until “the house looked like a kaleidoscope.” A flabbergasted doctor can’t help and only diagnoses “acute coloritis!” and the colors fly across the neighborhood and around the planet. Gauthier’s gorgeous mixed-media illustrations are quirky and angled, with an energetic combination of drawn lines, watery paint, cut paper, wood textures, and photo collage. The exact workings of the action “wash on”—the mechanism that makes colors move everywhere—is clear only textually and not visually, because along with errant color splotches, the illustrations use tilting lines, overlapping shapes, and abstract composition to create visual upheaval. The art isn’t easy to pull the story from, but it’s beautiful. As it becomes “hard to see the difference between the dog or the flower vase or the couch” and the dog disappears into the abstraction, Petronilla finally rethinks the acceptable scope of washing on. Petronilla and her family seem to be white.
Topsy-turvy offbeat fun. (Picture book. 3-7)