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Clark, Joan.

Illustrated by Velma Foster, Lantzville (B.C.), Oolichan Books, c1984. unpaged, paper, $9.95, ISBN 0-88982-078-3.

Grades 1 and up
Reviewed by Maureen Pammett

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

Published with assistance from the Canada Council by Oolichan Books, this is a particularly beautiful picture book. The text is written by Joan Clark, author of The Hand of Robin Squires (Clarke, Irwin, 1981), and is complemented and supported by illustrations by Velma Foster. One double-page spread and the final page are in full colour, three illustrations use only one colour, one contains two colours and the rest are black and white. This creative use of variety is particularly striking, as the colours, when they occur, add immeasurably to the impact of the story.

While this tale is at about a Grade 5 reading level, it would be more appropriate for older readers. The poetic use of language and the strong sense of symbolism need more mature minds that can appreciate the implications being presented by the author and illustrator.

The storyline is a very simple one, of a black leopard imprisoned in a zoo, who is befriended by a small girl imprisoned by ill-health. The back cover states: "This modern fable embodies such themes as growth and change, imagination and feeling, alienation and friendship." Certainly all of these can be found in the story, as well as a strong sense of impending death. The theme that comes across most impressively, though, is the one of alienation. The leopard, to escape the torment of the zoo visitors, who have no understanding of his needs, "looked for an opening to the inside of his head where he hung pictures of the changing seasons." The little girl, whose "skin was as white as the sheets on which she had lain all winter," also feels alienated from the adults around her. She creates for herself a world, "a glass room blooming with birds and flowers. . .Crayoned parrots squawked and strutted." On gossamer wings, she "rose hovering above flowers so magically hued she could cup their blossoms between her hands and the colour wouldn't smudge." In their escape from reality through imagination, the two find the common symbol of the white lily which becomes the gift, a focal point in the narrative.

While the overall effect of the story is one of sadness that such escape hatches into the imagination are necessary to help cope with reality, it is also one of hope, since such flights into the imagination make it possible to touch and to understand other minds, also reaching out.

This sensitive portrayal of the understanding between girl and leopard will haunt the reader long after the book has been closed.

As well as serving as a vehicle for furthering the concept of "empathy," this will be welcomed and used by teachers interested in beautiful language, carefully crafted, which becomes an effective contrast to the usual dull, "relevant" street-language found these days in the many realistic stories for children.

While not an easy book to categorize, this is well worth acquiring for juniors and up, as a book worth reading and enjoying again and again, but especially worth sharing, exploring and discussing together-adult and child.

Maureen Pammett, Peterborough County Board of Education, Peterborough, Ont.
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