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G. Robert McConnell

Illustrated by Steve Pilcher
Toronto, Napoleon Publishing, 1990. 48pp, paper $19.95
ISBN 0-929141-03-2. CIP

Kindergarten to Grade 3/Ages 5 to 8
Reviewed by Maryleah Otto.

Volume 19 Number 3
1991 May

Norbert Nipkin and the Magic Riddle Stone's author is the co-coordinator of Modern Languages for the Scarborough Board of Education. He has written over 150 books in French as a second language as well as various French curriculum textbooks for use in grade 3 to OAC (Ontario Academic Course). He has also written and/or edited several books on Canadian art plus four other children's books. Pilcher is an award-winning Canadian illustrator and commercial artist whose work appeared in Norbert Nipkin (Cerebus Publishing, 1978; Napoleon Publishing, 1989). He has also illustrated education texts.

This book tells the story, in verse, of Norbert, a tiny elf-like creature known as a "nipkin," and of Grog, a giant from a species called "zlogs." Normally, nipkins are a tasty morsel for zlogs, but Grog, a juvenile zlog who discovers to his amazement that nipkins can talk, decides not to devour Norbert, and so the unlikely pair become good friends. But this alliance doesn't sit well with their parents, who refuse to believe that nipkins and zlogs can ever be anything except arch enemies. Not surprisingly Norbert and Grog run away from home.

Grog has decided to solve the last of the three wishes of the magic riddle stone and thus become a hero and win all the power in the world. Norbert willingly agrees to help. Their quest follows the set pattern of all fairy-tales, in which a worthy but seemingly ineffective hero attempts an almost impossible task and succeeds against all odds. When Grog is turned into a block of ice by the monster Grimald, who is the keeper of the magic stone, and when the adult zlogs and nipkins, who have mounted a search and rescue operation for their children, are unable to conquer Grimald, it is little Norbert who rises to the occasion by re-arranging the letters in the magic word EVIL to spell LIVE. The spell is broken, Grimald vanishes. Grog is thawed back to life, the children are vindicated, and a friendly future awaits the zlogs and the nipkins.

Now, this isn't all that bad as a story, but to tell it in 224 four-line verses written in frequently awkward meters and in forced rhymes is to court disas­ter! Just trying to read the text to the end gave me a severe case of poetic hiccups. One verse uses the phrase "you'll be froze" while the succeeding one says "you'll be frozen," a discrep­ancy to which McConnell had to resort in order to find a rhyme for "grows." There are too many cliches, such as "shattered nerves," "ghostly white" and "brink of disaster." Some words like "tuft," "identical," "gourmet," "chasm" and "harmony" may need definition for children, but that's all to the good because their vocabulary will be enriched.

Visually, the book is very attractive. Full-colour paintings capture the unworldly settings, the terror of the quest and the appearance of the charac­ters, but there is a resemblance to Disney-style cartoons that detracts from the originality of the work. Overall, Norbert Nipkin and the Magic Riddle Stone would have benefited from some first-class editing. It might work if it were in prose and a lot shorter. Children will love the theme but are sure to grow bored long before the end.

Maryleah Otto, St. Thomas Public Library, St. Thomas, Ont.
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