CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 11 . . . . February 3, 2006
In The Magic Footprints, author Melissa Balfour accomplishes something not often possible in a book for beginning readers—she instills a poetic voice in the simple story of Tim and his dog Wig, and his bird, Zip. The book follows Tim, a shy boy of five or six, through his birthday, where he receives a plane from Wig and Zip. As he plays with his new toy, Tim encounters Lola, a mysterious new neighbour who later gives him the magic footprints in the title. The narrative is divided into three very short stories, and the result is an episodic, dreamlike tale that presents the reader with snapshots of Tim and Lola’s world. The climactic scene has Tim following the magic footprints as they fly from his room out into the yard in the middle of the night. There he meets up with Lola, and, as they follow the footprints, they become aware of the quiet beauty of the natural world beyond his doorstep. The absence of parents in the book allows for a subtle development of the relationship between Lola and Tim without outside interference (beyond the encouraging presence of Wig and Zip, of course).
Balfour’s delicate prose will delight young readers and helpful parents alike. New readers are helped along by speech bubbles in the illustrations. This printing style means readers will be focusing their attention on the typeface of the text as well as on the dialogue bubbles, adding a new dimension of textual concentration to the reading experience. Also helpful is the division of the book into small chapters which will no doubt encourage beginning readers as they triumphantly move through each portion of the book.
Part of what sets this book apart from other early reading books is the quality of its illustrations. Russell Julian’s combination of pencil and painting complements and extends the magical quality of Balfour’s text. Particularly evocative is Julian’s depiction of the magic footprints in flight over Tim’s yard and into Lola’s. The vivid movement mimics an earlier scene in which Tim watches his new plane fly around his house. In both scenes, Julian shifts perspectives so that we see Tim’s world from a number of viewpoints, from airplane’s eye to child’s eye, from above and below. The illustrations are soft, yet vivid, and capture Tim and Lola’s whimsical view of the world around them.
There is no conflict and resolution in the simple story. Instead, the book presents a world in which nothing can stand in the way of a burgeoning friendship, a happy afternoon with pets and a toy plane, and the discovery of the magic all around us. Obviously written to encourage early readers, The Magic Footprints is a welcome addition to the “Green Bananas” series of easy stories. The book is a learning tool as well as a piece of quality writing.
Caitlin Fralick is a prospective children’s librarian in the Master of Library Studies program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.