Monday, March 3, 2014

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne (Author and Illustrator)

Published in 1998 by DK  Publishing, Inc.

Anthony Browne's Voices in the Park is an intriguing book that is told in first-person point of view from the perspective of four different characters from two very different families: (1) an unnamed, apparently rich, bossy woman, her son Charles, and their pedigree Labrador Retriever named Victoria (the first family) and (2) a sad man who is out of work and is trying desperately to find a job, his daughter Smudge, and their dog Albert, a mutt (the second family). The two families couldn't be more different in their characterization. The first family lives in a nice neighborhood and wears nice clothes. The second family lives in a poor neighborhood and appears "rough-looking." The illustrations throughout the story contrast the two families and each character's perspective as the story progresses.

Browne's picturebook is divided into four distinct parts that are titled: First Voice, Second Voice, Third Voice, and Fourth Voice. As the story unfolds from the perspective of each voice, the font is different, and it becomes clear that all four of the characters do not see their walk in the park from the same perspective.

The First Voice: The rich, bossy woman decides to take her son and dog for a walk in the park, but it seems she isn't enjoying herself. When she lets Victoria off her lease, she says, "Immediately some scruffy mongrel
appeared and started bothering her." She is referring to the second family's dog Albert. After all, he isn't a "pedigree." The expressions on her face in the illustrations characterize her as being snobbish and smug. She orders her son to sit on the bench beside her, but doesn't even look at him. They are looking in opposite directions. Charles decides to run off and play with Smudge, and when the woman realizes he is gone, begins to call for him. She says, "You get some frightful types in the park these days! I called his name for what seemed like ages." Then she sees her son playing with a "rough-looking child," Smudge, and orders him to "Come here. At once!" They walk home in silence.

The Second Voice is told from the perspective of the sad man. He is seen sitting in a chair dressed in overalls and has his hand pressed against his
face. He looks downcast and depressed. He says he needs to get out of the house, so he decides to take his daughter and dog for a walk in the park. As they walk along the road of their neighborhood, there is trash scattered on the ground and a man dressed like Santa who is holding a sign that says "Wife and millions of kids to support." There is a broken picture of the Mona Lisa in the illustration, but she is not smiling. Once they arrive at the park, the man lets his dog go and remarks, "I wish I had half the energy he's got." The dogs begin playing together, and the man sits on a bench and begins to look through the newspaper for a job. He says, "I know it's a waste of time but you've got to have hope, haven't you? When it is time to go, Smudge cheers him up and chatters all the way home.

The Third Voice is told from the perspective of the bossy woman's son Charles. He is seen all alone looking
out a window and says, "It's so boring." Then his mother says it's time for their walk. When he sees the dogs playing together in the park, he sees it from a totally different perspective than his mother. He describes Albert as being friendly and sees the dogs as racing around "like old friends" and being happy. Charles responds, "I wish I was." He doesn't see the girl (Smudge) in the park as being "rough-looking." She is friendly and they play on the slide, the climbing bars, and they climb trees together. Unfortunately, his mother calls him just when he begins having a good time and is finally happy, and they head home. Charles wonders if Smudge will be there next time.

The Fourth Voice is told from Smudge's perspective, a young girl who is friendly and pleasant despite her family's circumstances. She recognizes her dad is "fed up," and is happy when he said they were going to take a walk in the park. She remarks
about the dogs behavior as they greet each other (the way dogs do) and thinks Charles is a wimp at first, but as they begin playing together, they actually have fun. Charles picks a flower for her before his mother calls for him, and Smudge says, "[He] had to go. He looked so sad." When she gets home, she puts the flower in some water and fixes her father a cup of hot cocoa.

I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting to see the experience of a simple walk in the park told from four very different perspectives. The illustrations are brightly colored paintings in which the characters are portrayed as monkeys. I don't really understand the purpose of this portrayal unless it was to distance the characters from actual people. I believe this would be a good book to teach children that people view the world from different backgrounds, life experiences, and knowledge, but if I were to use it, I would avoid the typical stereotypes that rich people are cold and selfish and poor people are just victims of their circumstances. I'm not sure what would be the best age group for this book. Younger children might not "get" it, but perhaps the book could be used to engage older students in meaningful discussions. I would like for some of my classmates to read this book; it would be interesting to see if they would be willing to read it to their K-3 age students. Teachers should use caution as to how they present the text if they choose to use it in their classrooms; this book could unintentionally perpetuate the idea of class warfare if not presented in a way that avoids stereotypes.

Meet Anthony Browne: Children's Laureate 2009-11 (British Author)
Source for Images
Find this book in your local library.


  1. I love this book. I am currently using this book with my yr3 class. 7-8yr olds. I am using the Pie Corbett approach to improve writing skills. The children are loving it. I am able to do so much with it. We have been using clauses to make our writing interesting. We have also learnt about changing words for more interesting words, eg pedigree Labrador instead of dog. We are also, looking at view points and how the author interests you. We will be studying more books by Anthony Browne and will have some philosophy lessons based on the issues raised in his books.

  2. Thank you for your comment regarding this post. I enjoyed this book as well. Like you said, there are so many ways you can use this book in the classroom. If you read any of Anthony Browne's books you would like to recommend, please feel free to do so!