________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2006


Snakes and Ladders. (Yellow Bananas). 

Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Anne Wilson.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2006.
48 pp., pbk. & cl., $7.16 (pbk.), $18.36 (RLB).
ISBN 0-7787-0998-1 (pbk.), ISBN 0-7787-0952-3 (RLB). 

Subject Headings:
King snakes-Juvenile fiction.
Snakes as pets-Juvenile fiction.
Grandfathers-Juvenile fiction.
Single-parent families-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Ellie Contursi. 

*** /4 


Wendy was small and thin and quiet. 

Hopscotch and handstands were never her idea of fun. So at school they called her "wimpy Wendy". Sad stories made her cry and so did Simon McTavish when he kept teasing her about being poor or about not having a father. So they called her "weepy Wendy." She hated school, and most of all she hated Simon McTavish. 

When she got home from school her mother was out at work like she always was and Grandpa was still out in his garden. She sat on the bed in Grandpa's room and told Slinky all about Simon McTavish and the horrible things he'd said that day. 

Snakes and Ladders begins with the introduction of an unusual pet living in Wendy's household. Slinky is his name, and he is her grandpa's pet snake. Incidentally, he is a very large snake. Wendy likes to play with Slinky but has to be careful to shut the door after herself when she enters her grandpa's room. Slinky lives in a tank on top of his dresser. 

     The sad part of Wendy's story is that she gets picked on at school, mainly by a bully named Simon McTavish. Wendy's concept of a good time isn't hopscotch or doing handstands, thus she is an easy target for the children in her class because she doesn't fit in. But it is Simon who teases her mercilessly about being poor and about her absent father. When she breaks down in tears, she is then known as "Weepy Wendy." At home, Slinky is her only confidante. 

     In the next chapter, we find that Grandpa has to have an operation on his hip. Naturally, Wendy must take care of Slinky while he is in the hospital. At school that day, her teacher explains that they will be doing a display of "interesting things" for the Parent Evening coming up at Christmas. When Wendy is asked what she would like to bring, she tells the teacher about the helmet her grandfather kept from the war. For some reason, Simon McTavish has a nasty smile on his face after he hears this information. In the morning, Wendy discovers that Simon himself is wearing a hat in class, and not just any hat but a shiny yellow firefighter's hat. Wendy felt her Grandfather's helmet paled in comparison. That evening as she tells Slinky all about it, Slinky comes up with a bright idea: why not take him to school for the Parent Evening? He was definitely very interesting. 

     Slinky accompanies Wendy to school the next day and escapes from her bag. The entire school is sent outside when teachers discover a snake on the loose. Police and firefighters arrive and spot Slinky up a tree. Wendy climbs the tree to rescue Slinky from uncertain death, and, as a result, traps herself. In the next turn of events, it is Firefighter McTavish, Simon's father, who rescues her in turn. Interestingly enough, Wendy discovers that Simon does not have a mother. Could Simon's own shame about this be the reason he teases her so much? Happily, the story ends with a healthy Grandpa's homecoming, an apology from Simon and even a Christmas gift from him. Perhaps a new friendship will begin as well? 

     Snakes and Ladders is a part of the “Yellow Bananas” series of chapter books. Because the chapters are short and the story is illustrated throughout, it makes a great first novel for children who are beyond the 'Easy Reader' level of books. Anne Wilson's colour pencil illustrations are simple and almost childlike in their quality but are a very good fit for this story. They make the characters likeable, even Slinky the snake! 

     Bullying can be a difficult subject to tackle with youth, but Michael Morpurgo does a fine job in this touching tale. 

Highly Recommended. 

Ellie Contursi is a librarian in London, ON. 

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

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