Nina in That Makes Me Mad
Hilary Knight charmed generations of readers with his illustrations for Kay Thompson's Eloise books, and over 60 years later, he hasn't lost his touch. While Eloise was rawther precocious, however, Nina, the heroine of this slim volume, is all kid, and she wears her emotions on her sleeve.
Nina feels like a real kid because her frustrations come not only from the grownups but also from within herself. She gets mad when her parents blame her for the mess her baby brother made, but she also gets mad when she is given a choice and picks the wrong thing. Nina gets mad in a dozen different ways in 12 two-page spreads, each designed with a full-page illustration on the left-hand side and a short one-page comic with more details on the right. In the last spread of the book, Nina says, "I feel better when I can tell you that I am mad," and her anger is resolved both by her expression of it (by jumping around) and by her mother's acknowledgement of it.
Nina isn't quite as devilish as Knight's other creation, the famous Eloise who lived and raised havoc at the Plaza, and she also has a more conventional family: Mom, Dad, older sister, younger brother. Nina's scrapes are not particularly dramatic, but they will likely ring true to early-grade readers: She can't put on a complicated shirt, the adults don't listen to her, and in one particularly painful episode, she doesn't get an ice cream from the ice-cream truck, even though her parents promised her one.
Knight's illustrations are pure genius. This book isn't just illustrated; it is designed, with sophisticated panel layouts that shift to fit the situation. Each two-page spread has a different design and a different palette, yet everything holds together very well. The panels have a bit of a retro look, with rounded corners and lots of circular panels, and often something breaks the layout, such as a cat dashing between two panels. On the last page, a frustrated Nina actually kicks and pounds the panel border.
What's more, Knight has a special genius for drawing children. Sway-backed Nina has a bit of Eloise in her, and her cuddly younger brother (often the source of her frustration) is simply adorable.
With its child's-eye view, perceptive writing and charming illustrations, this book is sure to be a fun read for children, and it may remind some adults just how tough it is sometimes to be a kid.
Reviewed by Brigid Alverson on March 30, 2012