CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 9 . . . . January 6, 2006
Sophia Teaches Love is the first in a series of books about Sophia, an “especially wise” eight-year-old girl. Sophia's wisdom, first noticed by her parents at the age of three, causes children and adults alike to gravitate towards her in the hopes of learning some great moral lesson, which the blonde-haired blue-eyed girl invariably dispenses with a diction and vocabulary more evocative of a minister than a school-aged girl. Inexplicably, the book is narrated by a dove who tells the reader he has been with Sophia since her birth.
In this installment, we learn that Sophia attends Triumphant Elementary School where she learns from her teacher that Friday is Show and Tell Day. As the other students in her class discuss their ideas for what to bring in, Sophia is quiet, trying to figure out what the best thing to bring could be. After a thoughtful discussion with her parents, Sophia gets to work, and soon the big day arrives. Her classmates all talk about material objects, like hockey players and favourite pets, but Sophia's topic is much more philosophical—producing a homemade, sparkly red heart, she tells the class about love.
What follows is a didactic lecture in which Sophia explains the power of love as a redemptive force in society. Sophia's speech, like the rest of the book, is quite unbelievable. She says things no eight-year-old would say, like “Once we know the meaning of love and how to give it…gossip, criticism, bullying, jealousy and all those things will no longer be part of our school, our playground and our homes.” Tania D'Angelo's writing is awkward and often grammatically incorrect. What's more, there is no plot to speak of in the book. All the action moves toward Sophia's speech at school, which is utterly successful. No one criticizes her or anyone else in the book. This is not to say that all books should involve some conflict, but the result here is a placid, boring, one-dimensional narrative that builds toward a moral lesson. Children will not enjoy being preached to so overtly.
Don Royer's illustrations are similarly flat. The pictures are one-dimensional and look as though they were generated on a computer; there is no texture or depth, and very little variety of facial expression. The children in the story do not look very different from the adults, which might be off-putting or confusing for young readers.
There is nothing wrong with books teaching children something about being a better person and learning to love those around them, but sermonizing is not the way to go about it. Sophia Teaches Love is a hollow, boring story that children (even those who are not as wise as Sophia) will see right through.
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.