In the Hand of the Goddess (1984), by Tamora Pierce

Pierce-Hand of GoddessThe sequel continues Alanna’s adventures, and at the end reveals her gender identity to those around her. Pierce continues with her ability to cast Alanna as a successfully ungendered individual until the middle of the book, when both George and Jon, who know her as a girl, begin to show interest.  Alanna’s response at this point becomes less credible than her earlier lack of interest was.  Kristin Cashore deals much more effectively with the balance between female sexuality and independence within a patriarchal society in Graceling (2008).  Still, Pierce’s writing is good, and the story compelling, albeit less successfully in this book than the first.

Bosley Sees the World (2012), by Tim Johnson

Bosley is quite the adorable little bear.  The illustration of his world and his bearness all work together to present a very friendly, yet vibrant aesthetic, a good choice on the part of author/illustrator Tim Johnson, who tells the story of an adventurous young bear out to discover his world. Young Bosley Bear, fascinated by his world, steps out of his comfort zone to explore what lies beyond his cave, beyond his forest. What lies there is another challenge: a mountain taller than any of the trees he has climbed. From the top of the mountain, Bosley looks down, back through the forest to his cave, and decides to return to the safety of his home.

The repetitive language (“He stretched his front paws. He stretched his back paws.”) serves multiple purposes: it creates an effective sense of rhythm in the narrative; it reinforces the learning of phonics and written word; and it exposes cross-language learners to a new vocabulary: for Johnson’s book is a dual-language text, with English and an alternate language (in the case of the edition I read: Spanish) on one page. The pattern of repetition could be more carefully use to this advantage; there is nothing wrong with Johnson’s prose, except that it brings memories of other, more successful books to mind too readily (although it is unfair to expect everyone to be Maurice Sendak). Similarly, the actual way that the text is superimposed over the delightful images impedes on the enjoyment of the reading experience; a number of other aesthetic options would create a blending of text and image that is less visually jarring. The final criticism of the text lies more deeply in the story. An easy alteration would render the story more meaningful: Bosley embarks on his quest for adventure, leaves his cave, traverses the forest, climbs a mountain, looks back at the great world he is a part of, and … nothing:

“That will have to wait until another day.
It’s too big for me now.”
And Bosley walked back to his tiny cave.

… He curled up in his little bed and dreamed about the big world.
He would explore it all someday.
He knew it.

The End.”

The narrative structure is fine, but there needs be a stronger sense of epiphany in Bosley’s mountain-top realization. Perhaps I am being too harsh, but at the end of a picture book, as much as a novel, we like a sense of emotional accomplishment, not only effective dénouement and closure.  This slight deficiency prevents Bosley Sees the World from rising into the higher echelons of children’s picture books; it is nonetheless a delightful story with much—notably the dual-language format—to recommend it.

When I read Bosley Sees the World , it was provided by the author in .pdf format; it has, however, recently been made available at amazon.com.

Amos Daragon: The Mask Wearer (2003; 2011), by Bryan Perro

Translated by Y. Maudet.

This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 16.5.

Amos Daragon

I really wish I had the original French (Amos Daragon, Porteur de Masques, 2003) in hand while reading this novel.  My initial reaction was not highly positive, only because the language seems so stilted and “See Spot run.” But the second one gets past what I infer to be a problem with the translation, one can understand why Perro’s series is so popular and has been translated into so many languages.  Like J. K. Rowling (although not as artfully), Perro has taken a number of creatures and ideas from disparate myths and legends and fairy tales and stirred them into a witch’s brew of adventure: a species of almost-humans who can change into animals; gorgons, basilisks, mermaids, and fairies; the Indian naga; the Egyptian snake-god, Seth… all have a place in Perro’s fantasy world.
In The Mask Wearer, the first of twelve books in the series, we meet the clever trickster Amos Daragon, who uses his wiles to escape his family’s poverty and set out on a quest to restore a magical stone to the Queen of the Fairies.  En route, of course, he makes unlikely friends and is plagued by numerous evils.  While this sounds perhaps clichéd, the characters are interesting and the mixture of various folktale elements unique.  The story begins awkwardly, almost as if it were written for very young readers, but soon picks up the pace and canters on towards a very well-structured conclusion.