CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 3 . . . . September 30, 2005
Cousins Julie and Sarah are city dwellers of "towering glass and steel" who venture out to a cabin in the woods to escape Julie's "busy cartoon life." The explanation for this phrase is never quite clear, and the real reason given for the need to escape is never answered. What is explored is the vast difference in the personalities of the older Julie and the younger Sarah.
A walk through the lush green forest leaves Sarah enchanted, happy and with dreams of adventures while the stressed Julie seems nervous, anxious and unsure of the creatures of the night. This emotional state transfers to a restless sleep for Julie. She deals with her anxiety by having a wall built around the cabin (symbolically her fears). In a nice touch by Weller, the names of the construction crew, Big Bear, Wolfman, and Wild Cat, are indicative of the forest creatures. However, the wall does not help as Sarah and Julie battle the rather capricious monsters that climb over the barricade. Sarah's comments, that "they don't look so scary" and that "it looks like a circus" out there, are meant to inject humour to match the drawings of this scene. The wall is removed, and the cousins venture back into the mysterious forest where Sarah discovers "where the monsters live" and this helps Julie deal with her fears.
My reactions to this title were somewhat mixed. The slim story does have some charm, but it failed to either capture or sustain my interest. Both the story and the characters seem flat and not really engaging. There is a significant contrast between what seems like a serious beginning and the nonsense of the imaginary comical creatures of the forest, although the "cartoon life" referred to on the first page will echo what is to come. There is also a significant contrast in the pictorial representation of the human characters and the delightful forest and its inhabitants which sparkle with humour. Questions abound! Why the fears in the first place? Can fears be walled in? Why do both cousins see the creatures if they are Julie's fears? All these queries could possibly spark a discussion.
Generally, the illustrations are what will capture the reader. The front cover offers intriguing vertical strips of the forest, the creatures and the main characters. Inside, there are interesting and unique perspectives in many of the illustrations, and the wonderful varied shades of forest greens contrast with the softly coloured whimsical monsters. The charming double page spread of these cartoon-like creatures climbing over the wall is reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are, but the overall effect of this story lacks the charm of Sendak's gem, especially in terms of kids being able to relate to the story.
Reesa Cohen is an Instructor of Children's Literature and Information Literacy at the Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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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.