For Edie, the eponymous woodland creature in Ashley Spires’ latest picture book, the hall at school is a fashion runway, a place to display the elaborate outfits she constructs every day from her extensive wardrobe. She likes dressing up, but more than that, she appreciates the attention her clothes attract. The limelight proves addictive, however, and Edie begins to resort to wilder and wilder attire – she goes from silk scarves and vintage cardigans to wearing a lampshade for a skirt and a birdcage on her head. Edie’s sewing skills prove as boundless as her imagination, but tragedy strikes one morning when a truly preposterous ensemble gets her stuck in a doorway. She has to crawl back home in her underpants, and begins to rethink her approach to fashion.
At first glance, Edie’s Ensembles is stunning, Spires’ dynamic illustrations highlighting just the right details and featuring splendid bursts of colour. Edie and her classmates are all visually appealing, and her relationship with her best friend, Andrew, subverts gender expectations. The story is fun, although its intended readers may be too young to identify with Edie’s relationship to her wardrobe.
The book gestures toward the didactic, though its point is hard to discern. Presumably, the moral is that it is unwise to be overly preoccupied with one’s own appearance, though by extension the book also suggests that giving up artistic expression and dressing like everybody else is the way to fit through life’s doorways.
Edie’s Ensembles might take a lesson from Edie herself. A book can come complete with frills and frippery (including gorgeous damask endpapers), but unless there’s some substance underneath the style, the reader is going to be left wanting more.