April 17, 2012
Morris's Disappearing Bag
By Rosemary Wells; illus. by author
0-4 Preschool Primary Puffin 40 pp.
978-0142300046 Paperback $6.99
In the interest of fairness, I should state up front that my review for Morris's Disappearing Bag is by no means impartial - this was not only my favorite Christmas books growing up, it was one of my favorites period, (for this reason, I included the original cover of the edition I read-to-death as a girl, as well as Puffin's recent re-issue).
Put simply, Morris's Disappearing Bag is the story of what happens when nobody wants to play with the teddy bear Morris receives on Christmas morning. Morris loves his bear. But his older siblings, all of whom receive older kid presents, (hockey gear, a chemistry set and a beauty kit), take no interest. They don't want to play with Morris's gift, and they say that Morris is too young to try theirs'. This leaves Morris feeling understandably left-out , a fact Well's communicates in her fantastically sensitive illustrations (Morris is seen on a series of pages, to the side or in the background, ears sagging and shoulders slumped. I still remember the waves of childish empathy I felt for Morris because of those ears). But all is not lost. Morris finds an unopened present beneath the Christmas tree. In it lies the eponymous bag. Morris climbs in and, to his delight, promptly disappears! Suddenly, Morris's siblings can't wait to try his present out, and so they do while Morris skates, mixes chemicals and "beautifies". Balance is restored and all is well as Morris's father carries him to bed, happy, exhausted and clutching his new bear.
The magic of Morris's Disappearing Bag is in Wells's masterful pacing and understated prose. Every word counts, every word communicates an emotional reality that, while trivial to an adult or older child, is critical to a little one, especially one inadvertently left out. One of Wells's earlier works, the illustrations in Morris's Disappearing Bag lack the bright, pop-off-the-page quality of her more recent books, but this is not shortcoming. The illustrations are warm and nuanced, lightly inked and filled in with soft watercolors, perfect for a story that is both fun and emotionally resonant. In my opinion, Morris's Disappearing Bag is the strongest book in Wells's admittedly impressive oeuvre. Speaking personally, I look forward to reading it many more times to come.