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Turney-Zagwÿn, Deborah
Victoria (B.C.), Orca Book Publishers, 1993.
32pp, cloth, $15.95, ISBN 1-920501-99-0. CIP

Subject Heading:

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10

Reviewed by Edith Strocen

Volume 22 Number 2
1994 March / April

Long Nellie is the story of two characters and their interaction. Jeremy is a small boy who finds a stray kitten one day. Long Nellie, after whom the book is named, is the town eccentric. She lives on the outskirts of town in splendid squalor. Her home is a broken-down trailer and her supplies consist of castoffs from the local garbage dump.

When Jeremy finds a kitten, he knows he will not be able to kee p it, but he does feel concerned enough to try to find it a good home. With a sort of childlike arrogance, he thinks of Long Nellie: surely she needs company and something to love. He makes an elaborate plan to bring the kitten to the attention of Long Nellie. Nothing works out quite the way that Jeremy envisions: Long Nellie hurts her ankle, Jeremy accompanies her home, and he makes tea for both of them. They get to know one another and, yes, the kitten finds a home with Long Nellie.

The story has many strengths: the artwork is eye-catching and exuberant, the rich language imaginative and image-building , and the characters are a good contrast to one another. Long Nellie is described as being "thin as a curved rake and as tall as a bent stepladder." Other phrases, such as "a tin of axle grease would squelch that squeak" paint very evocative word pictures.

Long Nellie is, of course, the more interesting of the two. She lives alone at the edge of town, she does not seem to be gainfully employed, she lives on the leavings of other people, and she is the kind of person that most people would like to make fun of or shun altogether. Jeremy has a sneaking liking for her, not to mention a healthy curiosity.

The artwork is quite spectacular: bright, mood-setting colours, exaggerated pictures of cartoonlike people, and touches of humour. In the illustration of Jeremy's kitchen, Jeremy is sitting on the floor clutching an old-fashioned milk bottle, the cat is splayed out in a very untidy, uncatlike pose and scratching at her fleas, father is sneezing at the window with a box of tissues marked "ATCHOO" beside him, and the refrigerator has a grocery list on it with "gummy bears; starred. There is also a small, very discreet mouse watching the proceedings.

This will be a lovely book to read to class, especially when the theme is getting along, friendship or showing tolerance Turney-Zagwÿ n is also the author of  Pumpkin Blanket,¹ among others .

Edith Strocen is a teacher-librarian at Greenway School in Winnipeg, Manitoba

¹Reviewed vol.XIX/2 March 1991, p.102.

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