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Emilie Smith-Ayala
Illustrated by Sami Suomalainen
Toronto, Annick Press, 1994. 32pp, paper, ISBN 1-55037-972-0 (paper) $4.95, ISBN 1-55037-973-9 (library binding) $14.95.
Distributed by Firefly Books. CIP

Kindergarten to Grade 3/Ages 5 to 8

Reviewed by Marion Scott

Volume 22 Number 5
1994 October

Marisol, is Emilie Smith-Ayala's first children's book. Smith-Ayala is South American by birth, grew up in Vancouver, and now lives in Guatemala. She brings this background to her story. It tells of a young Latin girl, Marisol, and her adjustment to her new home in Canada: Marisol's father has been killed, and her family has fled from political violence. It is a difficult time, but a magical dream begins a healing process for Marisol.

In her dream, she sees four great-great-grandmothers. They are weaving, and they show her that her father, and her heritage, will always be with her and be a part of her. Following the dream, a day of fun in the snow points to the possibility of happiness in her new life. And a snowstorm brings a good omen - a yellow bird shelters in the family's apartment. The story ends as Marisol recognizes the bird as a symbol of her father's spirit and love.

This is a book with a great deal of potential and a story that is needed by and would be meaningful to children in a similar situation. Unfortunately, its various elements do not really gel, and the potential is not fully realized. Marisol is nicely introduced, and her unhappiness and isolation portrayed in concise and vivid language. However, this early cohesion is lost, and the flow of text and language becomes less accomplished as the book progresses. There is also some discrepancy between what would seem to be the expected age of the reader and the detail and complexity with which Marisol's dream is presented.

The artwork is by Sami Suomalainen, whose work includes the illustrations for The Dark by Robert Munsch. Suomalainen employs a similar sketch-like style here but it does not complement the subject matter as effectively as it does in The Dark.

One of the most attractive illustrations is the one on the front cover, which features a yellow cat (jaguar?). But it is also misleading as it implies that this, not the yellow bird, is Marisol's messenger. Colour is nicely used, however, to convey and contrast mood: pictures of Marisol's old home and of her dream glow with colour, while the family's new apartment and the winter street scenes are drab and dull.

It is important for children to see their experience reflected in their books, as it is for children to read about the experiences of others. Therefore, it is disappointing that this book is not stronger and more polished. Libraries that want books on this subject should buy it, perhaps in paperback, but it is otherwise hard to justify as a core purchase.

Marion Scott is a children's librarian with the Toronto Public Library in Toronto, Ontario.

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