________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 1 . . . . September 1, 2006


What Are You Doing Sam?

Marie-Louise Gay.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press, 2006.
32 pp., cloth, $14.95.
ISBN 0-88899-734-5.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Alison Mews.

***½ /4

Reviewed from Prepublication Copy.


"What are you doing, Sam?" asked Stella.

"I'm teaching Fred some new tricks."

"I guess he's not interested," said Stella.

"Yes, he is," said Sam.

"Look...Sleep, Fred! Sleep!" cried Sam.

"You see? He's learning!"

"Fred is very clever," said Stella.

In yet another charming book about siblings Stella and Sam, it is the younger Sam and his dog Fred who have the starring roles. As always, Stella provides him with audaciously inventive answers to his inquisitive questions along with unqualified sisterly love.

internal art

     In this story, Sam is less dependent on Stella for guidance as he quietly romps with Fred around the house on a rainy day. Stella's role as stand-in parent is more pronounced here as she keeps tabs on Sam and repeatedly finds him resourcefully engaged and in control. He firmly rejects any offers of assistance. For instance, he chooses not to have Stella read to him but instead attempts to teach Fred to read, and he asserts he doesn't need Stella's help to make peanut butter and banana pancakes because Fred is helping him. That this 'help' takes the form of Fred’s being on the kitchen counter with his snout in the mixing bowl will amuse little readers.

     Gay's inimitable style of watercolour washes over whimsical drawings creates just the right tone to appeal to young children. Her uncluttered illustrations depict rooms with a messy, lived-in appearance, and she includes small details that enhance the pictures without overwhelming them. Her story is just as kid-friendly, as most children would love to have Sam's unfettered freedom to explore and create. The chaos he leaves behind is any parent’s nightmare but, of course, Stella is as blissfully unaware of the mess as he is, and she is serenely supportive of his new-found independence. I turned the final page without realizing the story was finished as the question and answer format ends a little abruptly, but that quibble aside, this a comical celebration of imaginative play.

     Recommended both for fans and those new to the Stella and Sam stories.

Highly Recommended.

Alison Mews is Coordinator of the Centre for Instructional Services, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.


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