CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 8 . . . . December 7, 2007
The Painted Chest is a story of an unspecified time gone by, a time when a community of farmers struggled day to day picking stones, digging in hard soil, devoting their lives to getting a living from the earth.
As the text says early in the book:
And this is the crux of the story. Because hard physical labour is all the people have, they pay no heed to the needs mind or soul. There is no joy, no laughter.
A young girl, Maddie, wants more. The change starts with when she hears stories told by a local elder, and it develops further with the discovery of the painted chest. The box contains unfamiliar objects - wooden cylinders and boxes with skin tops, all of which have no meaning for the children who have uncovered the box. Maddie encourages the children to move the chest to a secluded place. They use the pictures painted on the outside to discover what use to make of the pipes and drums and dancing slippers inside. Other villagers are drawn into the circle of music and story, and these nurture the soil - and the people - more than the sun alone.
There is a folk-art feel to the illustrations, especially in the detailed motifs on the chest. The human figures are not always drawn in proportion, but the solid shapes appear real. The change in the coloration of the pages from browns and grays at the beginning of the story to richer blues, greens and golds at the end echo the transformation expressed by the words.
A satisfying story with a message about the importance of art.
Ellen Heaney is Head of Children's Services at the New Westminster Public Library in New Westminster, BC.
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