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Ramabai Espinet
Illustrated by Veronica Sullivan
Toronto, Sister Vision, 1992. 32p, paper, $8.95, ISBN 0-920813-66-6
Distributed by Women's Press. CIP

Kindergarten to Grade 3/Ages 5 to 8

Reviewed by Judy Coulman.

Volume 21 Number 4
1993 September

This book tries to combine the magic of imagination with the reality of the multi-ethnicity of Toronto. Claudia A., Claudia C. and Claudia S. are travelling down to the Baton's Centre with Claudia S.'s mother in order to buy things for Claudia S.'s birthday. Near Spadina the streetcar stops for a red light and they all see the Princess of Spadina.

The children and Mrs. S quickly leave the bus, and the Princess of Spadina gives them a tour of Spadina, ending at the Kensington market area. The girls become instant heroes when they foil a hold-up, helped by the magic powers of the Princess of Spadina.

The illustrations by Veronica Sullivan are vibrant with colour and usually support the text. Occasionally, though, there are discon­certing lapses. The robber's hair colour changes from brown to golden blond within three illustrations. The storekeeper is left as a pencil drawing without colour in otherwise coloured illustrations, possibly to emphasize his powerless state. The result, though, conveys to the reader a sense of omission rather than purpose. However, Sullivan expertly develops the sense of fun and joy associated with the rainbow colours from the theme of the book by extending the colours swirling beyond the framed full-colour plates.

The text has difficulties sustaining the interest of the reader, or audience. I read it to several groups of children and found the use of Claudia as a common name for all the heroines to be tedious and confusing. Moreover, each Claudia had little develop­ment of character or distinguishing features beyond her ethnicity. To refer to "Mrs. S's arm" is awkward to read. Finally, how can Claudia S. with hands "encased in multicolour boxing gloves" pick up the gun dropped by the robber? All of this confusion interrupts the flow of the story. Thus, some of the passages of beautiful description, especially of the market, are overlooked by a fidgeting, bored audience.

The climax of this book, the robbery, seems to be transplanted, or thrust into the book, to resuscitate the text. "And what do you think happened next?" is used to build anticipation. The use of this device lacking the sophistication required in writing for children may possibly reflect the inexperi­ence of Ramabai Espinet in this genre. She is a celebrated poet and essayist... but, in my opinion, not yet an author of children's books.

The Princess of Spadina could fill a void in your collection if you lack multicultural material. However, for me, the "correctness" of the theme cannot overcome the pedestrian inaccuracies of the book.

Judy Coulman is a teacher-librarian in Guelph, Ontario.
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