- Mireille Levert (Author)
A Wizard in Love. Tundra Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Tim Wynne-Jones (Author)
Pounce De Leon. Red Deer Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Tolowa M. Mollel (Author)
The Orphan Boy. Fitzhenry & Whiteside (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Hilary Turner
If Aristotle had written a treatise on picture books, he would undoubtedly have recommended plots that take the reader from bad fortune to good. Such a formula, though obviously unsuitable for tragedy or epic, and perhaps too simplistic for the adult mind, is just the thing for young children—who need to know about causality and change, but who do not yet require a purgation of pity and terror. All three of these books show us interesting characters whose lives are pleasantly transformed by a single action or event.
In Pounce de Leon, Tim Wynne-Jones has created the sunny story of a small kitten who enters the life of Mrs. Florida Brown, a lonely older woman whose life is dominated by an unexplained grief. Told entirely from the kitten’s point of view, and brought to life by the lush watercolour paintings of Alfredo Tapia, the tale is a cheerful account of how small things can make a big difference. Pounce, the title character, is both cute and single-minded, and his mission in life is to rescue his benefactress from her secret sorrow: “If her knuckles ached, he’d let her pat him for a good long time. When her tummy acted up, he would sit on her until she felt better. And if she was lonely at night, he’d let her curl up right there beside him.” As befits his surname, Pounce makes an important discovery. A neglected stone fountain bubbles in an overgrown corner of the garden. In leading Mrs. Brown to the fountain, Pounce helps her to confront her sorrowful past—and with that courageous act, something of her youthful buoyancy is restored to her. The book ends with a new beginning.
Another lonely soul is the subject of Mireille Levert’s amusing tale, A Wizard in Love. Hector, a retired wizard, is every bit as reclusive as Florida Brown, and much less even-tempered. With only his cat Poison for company, Hector spends his days napping, watching TV, and eating cookies—until one morning he is awoken by a “horrendous racket” emanating from the house across the street. This proves to be the piano playing of his new neighbour, Isobel, who is everything that Hector is not: she is charming, generous, creative, and beautiful. Hector’s first impulse is to put a stop to the disturbance by magical means, and so he bakes an evil cake that will poison Isobel. But even as he delivers this pernicious offering, something in her manner makes him falter. Her beauty and kindness remind him, somehow, that he was not always an embittered curmudgeon, and Hector permits himself to be charmed into playing the piano while Isobel sings. The able but quirky drawings of Marie Lafrance make the change in fortune graphic and concrete. The scenes in Hector’s gloomy house are grey and dingy, while Isobel’s presence and dwelling are rendered as bright, bold, and colourful. The ending is happy indeed, with the whole neighbourhood joining in the musical celebration.
The third of these books is slightly more complex than the others in that it entails a reversal in the plot, moving from bad fortune to good—and then back to bad again. Based on a Masai legend that must in turn have its roots in the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Orphan Boy tells the story of an old man who is granted the assistance of a star—a star in the form of a magical boy named Kileken (the Masai name for the planet Venus), who rescues him from toil and poverty. We follow them through a change of seasons, from rainy to dry, each detail of the weather registered by the lavish and open-hearted illustrations of Paul Morin. Yet even when “the drought has burned up the last blade of grass and the last of water,” Kileken magically keeps his master from want. Of course, as in all good legends, there is a catch. In exchange for his continued prosperity, the old man must promise not to pry into his young charge’s secret ways. And of course, as in so many myths, legends, and folk tales on this theme, his curiosity gets the better of him. He spies on the boy, destroying the trust that the two have cultivated. In response to the man’s lack of faith, the boy resumes his place in the heavens, and the old man is abruptly returned to his original precarious existence, dependent on the weather, and forced to eke out a subsistence in the sparse landscape. This is a beautifully produced picture book, with an admirable integration of text and pictures that pulls together the joyful and the eerie aspects of the tale. Good fortune comes to those who do not expect it, and even to those who do not deserve it. Good fortune comes when it chooses to come. These books teach us to accept it and revel in it, and they warn us against trying to control it.
- Teen Wives and Mothers by Elizabeth Galway
Books reviewed: The Lit Report by Sarah N. Harvey and Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka
- La courte échelle by Daniela Di Cecco
Books reviewed: La livre de la nuit by Marie-Francine Hébert and Pas de Chausson dans mon salon by Gilles Gauthier
- (Re)presenting Cultures by Suzanne James
Books reviewed: Ancient Thunder by Leo Yerxa, Napi Goes to the Mountain by Elisa Amado and Antonio Ramárez, and Tarde de invierno/Winter Afternoon by Elisa Amado, Jorge Lujàn, and Mandana Sadat
- On Contexts and Texts: Re-Branding Canadian Classics by Jonathan Meakin
Books reviewed: Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock and Carl Spadoni and Starbuck Valley Winter by Roderick Haig-Brown
- Non-Generic Brands by Mark Libin
Books reviewed: Monkeypuzzle by Rita Wong, The Girl from Ermita & Selected Poems: 1961-1998 by Goh Poh Seng, and The Boy in the Attic by Gu Xiong and Paul Yee
MLA: Turner, Hilary. Small Transformations. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #206 (Autumn 2010). (pg. 197 - 199)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.