Monday, October 16, 2006


ADELE AND SIMON by Barbara McClintock (Farrar Straus and Giroux)

When I was around eleven years old, I read a comic book digest, "Little Lulu in Paris," and was so taken by Lulu's adventures that I vowed to someday visit all the places that Lulu had been. Here is a book that will inspire travel in children's futures, but for now, they can take a remarkable tour of Paris in a book.

Sacre bleu! When little brother Simon is picked up from school, he has his belongings, but as he traipses the streets of 19th century Paris with his increasingly chagrined big sister Adele, he conveniently loses his items, piece by piece... his knapsack disappears mid-eclair at the Maison Cador Patisserie, the crayons go missing at the Louvre, and his coat is without a trace in front of the Cathedrale de Notre Dame. When friends conspire to retrieve his things, it is clear that all the siblings need is a good night's sleep in order for Adele to find the one thing she almost lost: her patience.

With the easy grace of Maurice Chevalier, McClintock makes a boggling amount of Francophilian research and adoration look so natural, from the 1907 map endpapers that show the location of Simon's lost items, or the inclusion of great artists like Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas joining in the hunt at the Louvre, or compositions inspired by Daumier, all in perfect etching-style, cinematic detail. The pictures are what we hope for, the kind that you can look at over and over, and find something new every time. The end-notes are marvelous and as rich as most books in and of themselves. Though there is a profound and contagious passion for her setting and its history, but most importantly, there is never a page in which McClintock forgets her true audience: the young reader or listener. The friction and frustration of keeping track of a child's things is matched by Adele's realistic ire, and the fact that there is, ultimately, no love lost is dearly reassuring. What a gorgeous, gorgeous book, the kind that will make you cry out in joy and admiration. It's what a book looks like when it is the result of true inspiration, and a matching ability. (6 and up)

Also of interest:
Though Adele and Simon is inspired, for my storytimes, the hands-down favorite by McClintock is THE MAGIC FISHBONE.When Mama is in bed with a bad cold, helpful Molly goes out to buy fish for the family's dinner, and ends up meeting her fairy godmother who advises her to save the bone she finds in her portion and use it for one magic wish of her choice. Her brothers and sisters have many exciting suggestions which are elegantly illustrated on a double-page spread, but Molly yields not to temptation. In the days that follow many occasions arise that warrant a good wish, but Molly prudently solves the problems in other ways. What makes Molly finally use her wish? Read and find out! I assure you that at the end of this book, your listeners will be wishing for "one more time!" The story is loosely based on the Charles Dicken's story "The MagicFishbone," which is cleverly alluded to in the cover illustration depicting Dicken's "Fresh Fish" shop, and this book is definitely fresh! (6 and up)

In DAHLIA, Aunt Edme gives Charlotte the gift of a delicate doll, which Charlotte promptly proceeds to include in tree-climbing, mud-cake making, wagon-races and the favorite game of them all, toss-up-in-the-air-and-land-in-a-heap. The illustrations subtly reflect the expression of the doll's increased delight in being included in the rough-housing. But how will her condition be received by Aunt Edme? A delightful toy-tale made especially funny by the liberated view juxtaposed with the Victorian artwork. (5 and up)

Barbara McClintock deserves more recognition as an illustrator, exercising a cross between the mastery, imagination and elegance of John Tenniel (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland) and the sweetness and strong characterization of Ernest Sheppard (Wind in the Willows). She has an inimitable ability of mixing a classic art style and a contemporary mindset. If you were to collect every thing she puts her hand to, you wouldn't be sorry.

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