With his creation of the titular protagonist in Captain Perfection & The Secret of Self Compassion: A Self-Help Book for The Young Perfectionist, acclaimed Broadway music director Julian Reeve has done something extraordinary. Very often analogous figures serving as some sort of metaphorical icon, particularly when it comes to children’s books, have to have one foot firmly planted in the outsider movement. But what of a protagonist who can serve as a role model for the many, not just the select few? That’s part of what makes Reeve’s overall point with Captain Perfection so striking. Tackling an issue often swept under the societal rug of alleged issues or conditions, he shows that this is a trait not only many people possess but also — with the right amount of leverage — holds the keys to success.
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By making a characterization of commonplace anxieties and fears something that represents all people, he shows the traits making up so-called perfectionism are nothing to be ashamed of, while simultaneously something those troubled by should regard as a gift. Part of how Reeve articulates this is by showing the concepts of ‘success’ and ‘perfection’ are subjective, and attaining such goals truly begins primarily by recognizing the strengths and weaknesses within yourself. Aiming such a philosophy at children through a medium they can understand, the beneficial effects are two-fold. Firstly, they inspire the overachieving child to have perspective and confidence, while simultaneously enabling them to pass on such knowledge in future years that can positively impact those around them and their communities at large.
Reeve’s strength as a storyteller is paramount here, the playful and cartoonish illustrations helping to literally drive home the points he makes about maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a perfectionist. The drawings themselves are quite remarkable, even by adult standards, as they simplify otherwise complex perspectives and ruminations even so-called ‘grownups’ have a hard time articulating, let alone in a way that is personable and raw. In an era where division has proven to be number one in terms of media coverage and clickbait, there is hope yet when things like Reeve’s Captain Perfection reach such large audiences. The issues he covers are universal, and in that universality lies the ability to inherently connect. It will be fun to see where the book lies in terms of status in the next ten years.
Frankly, it deserves much more recognition that it’s initially received now. As a creative person, Reeve seems to have his finger on the pulse of young people. His empathetic and rich way of saying so much through deceptively simple and evocative prose makes him belong in a deeper, Shel Silverstein-esque sort of camp. It’s something that we haven’t seen for some time, and coming from the likes of him is a welcome relief from otherwise sophomoric entries in the field of children’s entertainment.