This week I’m standing on my cyber rooftop and making a barbaric yawp for a chapter-book series full of heart and style, which I think flies entirely too under the radar. Steve Voake’s Daisy Dawson early chapter-book series, each title published in the States one year after its debut in the UK, wrapped me around its finger at Book One and has not let go since.
Read the last Seven Impossible Things on illustrators striking out on their own.
The series, peppered with Jessica Meserve’s sweetly rendered black-and-white sketches in ink and pencil, works as an engaging read-aloud to children. (I’m now envisioning a chapter a day to classrooms of late preschool or early elementary students, and I’m nodding.) They also provide short, accessible chapters for those setting out to read on their own. You know when those emerging readers finally say, “I think I can do this myself”? Hand them a Daisy Dawson book. Better yet, hand them the fourth book in the series, Daisy Dawson at the Beach, released in April (Candlewick).
When we meet Daisy Dawson at the series’ launch, she’s late for class at Nettlegreen Elementary School. Yet again. As her mother reminds her not to dawdle, we learn that she’d been late three times the week before. “That meant she had actually been on time twice,” Daisy realizes. Score! She’s an optimist.
On her way to school, Daisy catches sight of a yellow butterfly stuck in a spider’s web and releases it. Suddenly, “a delicious warm feeling fizzed along her fingers, tumbling like a wave through her whole body until it reached all the way down to the tips of her toes.”
Thanks to this mysterious, abracadabra butterfly, Daisy can understand exactly what the blackbirds are singing about, her dog Boom begins to talk to her, and the small gerbils in her classroom, Burble and Furball, chat her up as well. Throw in some singing and dancing ants, a top-secret-mission squirrel (who speaks in code and says things like, “THE BLUE DONKEY IS UNDER THE MATTRESS!”), and a horse named Meadowsweet. She can talk to them all. There’s even a snooty cat named Trixie.
That’s right. Make way, Doctor Doolittle.
In the three years since, Daisy has swum with otters (Daisy Dawson and the Secret Pond) and ventured into the snowy woods to find Woolverton, her newborn lamb (Daisy Dawson and the Big Freeze). In the latest title, Daisy Dawson at the Beach, she saves a dolphin, no less. Just look at her dancing on the cover up there. OF COURSE she can save a dolphin. She knows she can pretty much conquer the world.
There are many things about the series that work well: all the understated humor (Boom telling her in Book One, “My name’s not Rover, by the way. It’s Boom,” as he was born on the Fourth of July); the appeal the book has for animal lovers; some fun wordplay (the “sky-flowers,” or fireworks, of Book One); Meadowsweet—arguably, the best character—the mother-like horse who nails Daisy as the “brave soldier” that she is; and the heart at the series’ center, never too precious: “Friends belong to one another…It’s the best sort of belonging there is.”
The series also celebrates what Meadowsweet calls the magic inside Daisy, otherwise known as her very active imagination. Did she actually have a close encounter with a magic voodoo butterfly, or is it all in her head? It’s no matter, really. Neko Case, one of my favorite musicians, sings the line “my love has never lived indoors.” That’s Daisy. (You know you’re far gone as a children’s-lit nerd when you’re quoting Neko Case with regard to a chapter book. Just humor me.) Daisy lives a life many 21st-century chronically indoor children may wonder at and quite possibly covet—an outdoors, steeped-in-nature life, rich in imagination and wonder.
And really fun friends. Whether they’re real or not.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.