A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

Review by Makenna Vanegas

Scholastic Press, March 1, 1998

32 pages, Hardcover, $14.99 CAD, 0590929976

Ages 5 and up

Picture Book, Fiction, Fantasy

“Camilla Cream loved lima beans. But she never ate them. All of her friends hated lima beans, and she

wanted to fit in. Camilla was always worried about what other people thought of her.”

Bolstered on the cover of David Shannon’s A Bad Case of Stripes is a downcast, rainbow-stricken Camilla Cream, sulking into her polka-dot pillows. On the outside, Camilla is the definition of sunshine and rainbows. On the inside, however, she is shadowed by gloom. After all, given her position as a people-pleasing conformist, multicolour stripes are not exactly a preferred look. Ironically, Camilla’s conventional ways may just be the reason behind her latest atypical change. After a lifetime of adhering to social norms, she wakes up one day unrecognisable to herself: she is covered in rainbow stripes!

Looking to others for a cure, Camilla meets with “expert” medical professionals equipped with clipboards and clunky glasses. Troublingly, their proposed “treatments” only work to upset her condition. Camilla’s first concern, however, is not her worsening illness but “what to wear with [her] crazy stripes.” As a people-pleaser, Camilla is all too aware of—and shaped by—society’s opinion. This is especially true at school, where her “stripes” begin changing patterns at others’ request. In one image, she acts as the vibrant nucleus to a circle of surrounding classmates, who watch as her “stripes” change with their collective command.

At home, Camilla remains a headliner. On her front lawn, reporters band together to broadcast “The Bizarre Case of the Incredible Changing Kid.” At this point, Shannon gives way to moral debate, as news networks profit from making Camilla a public spectacle. Moreover, Camilla continues to let others’ opinions dictate her life, leading her further from her true self. In
turn, her “stripes” progress into “crystals and feathers and a long furry tail.”

After the dehumanising experience of denying her true identity, Camilla chooses to embrace her individuality, offering an exceptional lesson in self-acceptance. While it is a beautiful thing when others allow her to be herself, she decides it is more dependable when she allows it. With this decision, “she never [has] even a touch of the stripes again.” Camilla’s return to health is withheld, heavily coloured, and clouded with confusion because, without the need for external validation, no story remains. Shannon acknowledges that Camilla’s arrival to this new way of being may not be free of social backlash, interpersonal charades, and greater moral intricacies shaded by girlhood; regardless, she now has the mentality to cope with these events.

Shannon’s anti-peer pressure storyline matches that of Kevin Henkes’ Chrysanthemum with imaginative, surrealist artwork similar to Berkeley Breathed’s Flawed Dogs. Illustrations of Camilla are continuously relatable to readers, for her character is based in relatable settings as she transitions from average girl to an amoeba-like figure with spiky, furry bits. Furthermore, the story raises several overarching questions: Is one defined by others’ perceptions or their own? How are thoughts formed, and should they all be taken seriously?

A Bad Case of Stripes is a pot of gold for young children, providing them a rich lesson in mind over matter. From Camilla, readers can learn the value of looking beyond conformity and seeking out their own beliefs, where the fortune lies not in fitting in but finding themselves. With this, readers can recognize normalcy for what it is: a wishful illusion at the end of an ever-shifting rainbow. Readers, the question I propose to you now is: do you want to spend your time chasing it?

Makenna Vanegas is a UBC student, originally from Lake Oswego, Oregon. Between ballet classes, she spends her time creating music, digital art, and perfecting her Flock of Seagulls hairstyle.

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