________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007


Gwynne, Fair & Shining.

Stephanie Lisa Tara. Illustrated by Lee Edward Födi.
Dallas, TX: Brown Books, 2007.
24 pp., cloth, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-933285-62-7.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 4-6.

Review by Renée Englot.

** /4


“Believe in yourself!” Gwynne called out to the castle,
(And her grandmother answered, without further hassle:)

“See your flame in your heart – all your life remain strong, Journey forth without fear, and you’ll always belong! Look inside your own thoughts, to yourself listen well,For your heart always knows, and the truth it will tell.Find your very own path – it may be anywhere-
And you shall always, FOREVER, be SHINING and FAIR!

Stephanie Lisa Tara counters images of passive fairy tale heroines. Her Gwynne is the heroine of a fairy tale-like picture book, but Gwynne discovers her own inner strength and learns to shine despite harsh surroundings. Unfortunately, this admirable message is undermined by a preachy tone and a confusing storyline.

     Gwynne is a servant in a miserable castle ruled by a truly miserable knight. Although Gwynne’s grandmother was once the queen, now Gwynne is a scullery maid. Readers do not learn how this happened. A flute appears in the fire, and the voice of Gwynne’s grandmother instructs her to dance and let love thrive. When the nasty knight puts the kibosh on laughing and dancing, Gwynne runs away to the forest and meets with creatures who are apparently old friends.  They return to the castle to right a wrong, and Gwynne is magically transformed into a princess.

internal art

     The book seems more self-help than story. The plot has gaps, and there is little sense of why events unfold as they do. The lack of back story bothers me as an adult reader but may not trouble young listeners. The self-help lessons are well intentioned and contain good, important lessons, but may nauseate the adult reader with their saccharine peppiness. The author also overuses the authorial aside to impart these lessons and remind children of their worth and inner resources.

     There are some lovely bits of language which will read aloud beautifully, for example, “The castle was cold. It was dark, dim, and grim. / There were grey skies without, and grey walls within” and “That noisy knight cackled, crackled, and spewed”. However, there are also numerous examples of awkward phrasing to accommodate rhymes. Some of the vocabulary will be beyond the grasp of the intended audience, but any confusion will likely be glossed over by the cadence of the read aloud. 

     The illustrations, on the other hand, truly do shine. Canadian artist Lee Edward Födi’s grubby Gwynne is charming, his knight is amusingly revolting, his “greedy old folk” of the court are marvellous caricatures, and his castle is sure to capture the imagination of future architects.  Young children will enjoy the texture that glitter adds to the artwork. Sparkles shine on virtually every page. 

Recommended with reservations.

Renée Englot is a former junior high school teacher now working as a professional storyteller.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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