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Marjorie Pickthall. Illustrated by Frances Tyrrell.
Toronto, ON: Lester Publishing, 1991.
30pp., cloth, $18.95.
ISBN 1-89555-10 8. CIP.

Grades 2 and up / Ages 7 and up

Reviewed by Theo Hersh.

Volume 20 Number 3
1992 May

The Worker in Sandalwood is a quiet story about a miracle, one of those inexplicable events that take place between consciousness and dreaming. Fourteen-year-old Hyacinthe, a carpenter's apprentice, is left on his own to work on a cabinet for Madame. The precious, sweet-scented sandalwood comes from far away and the work must be done carefully.

Hyacinthe works painstakingly slowly. On Christmas Eve the cabinet is not ready and Hyacinthe fears his master's thrashings. Letting loose great sobs of despair, he is interrupted by a knocking at the workshop door. A mysterious stranger enters and speaks kindly to Hyacinthe: "Let me help you ... I also was bred a carpenter." Reluctantly, Hyacinthe consents; he marvels at the stranger's workmanship. Weary with work, he rests a while as the stranger labours through the night.

Hyacinthe, half-awake, half-dreaming, sees the four corners of the cabinet exquisitely finished with a brush of the stranger's fingertip. Laying the tools down neatly, the stranger slips out of the shed and disappears into the golden dawn.

Tyrrell's art matches the text's quiet and reverent tone. Muted browns, greys and yellows predominate. The illustrations, like icons, represent scenes in the story; alas, they are static, freezing moments in endless time. An oil lamp burns in the workshed, creating a circle of light a halo, around the figures. But the symbol loses it effectiveness by its overuse: even Hyacinthe's cruel master is encircled by the light. There is a dramatic power in Tyrrell's work, nevertheless. Her sure hand and steady vision beautify this simple tale of Christian faith.

Theo Hersh, Toronto Public Library, Toronto, ON.
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