________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 2 . . . . September 12, 2008

cover The Sleeping Porch.

Ian Wallace.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-826-2.

Subject Headings:
Dreams-Juvenile fiction.
Voyages and travels-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 4-7.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

**½ /4

Reviewed from f&g’s.

excerpt:

One steamy summer night, Brando and his parents deserted their beds for the cots on the sleeping porch at the back of the house. They were hoping to catch the hint of a breeze.

“It’s hot enough to wake the dead,” his father said.

But in no time at all they were sleeping soundly.

Fireflies flickered.

Cicadas sang.

And shadows shimmied in the grass.

 

Award-winning author/illustrator Ian Wallace reveals the creative depth of his imagination with his new book, The Sleeping Porch. On a hot summer’s night, Brando and his parents move from their bedrooms to sleep in a cooler spot on the porch. “It’s hot enough to wake the dead,” Brando’s father says, prophetically. For no sooner is the family asleep than a long deceased cat rises from the nearby graveyard to join Brando in his dreamtime search for a cooler place.

internal art

      As the above page one text excerpt illustrates, Wallace’s careful choice of words helps the reader to envisage the baking hot story setting. Wallace’s clever alliterations are also pleasing to the ear…“steamy summer,” “sleeping soundly,” “hoping” for a “hint of a breeze,” flickering fireflies, singing cicadas and shadows that shimmy in the grass. One’s mind easily pictures the uncomfortably hot night and the restless search for sleep.

      Despite the strong word choice, however, I do not think that the illustrations do a good job in similarly portraying the heat of the setting. Throughout the book, Wallace’s watercolour paintings feature an almost exclusive use of a cool colour palette. Wallace relies primarily on greens and blues, browns and greys. This palette is appropriate for most of the book because Brando and the graveyard cat find relief from the heat. In the opening and final few illustrations, however, Wallace would have done better to include more vibrant and warmer colours to reflect the heat of the setting.

      There is no explanation as to why Wallace set his story in the 1940s, and so I wonder why he made that decision. Certainly, the historical setting plays no part in the written story or illustrations, and so it was, for me, a distraction. Some of the dialogue added to that sense of distraction. I concede that it strikes me as rather odd that, in an imaginative book for children, I do not have any problem with the notion of a talking cat. At the same time, however, I do have a problem with some of the things that the cat says. I found some of the dialogue off-putting (especially given the historical setting and even more so given the cat has been dead since the War of 1812). “Hot dog, it’s a hot night,” the cat says when it first appears. I recognize that Wallace is probably playing with words, but it did not sound right to me. Likewise elsewhere when the cat says such things as “darn tootin’,” “matey,” and “hot-dig-e-dee.” In my opinion, the dialogue sounds hackneyed and is inconsistent with the pleasant sound of the alliterations previously discussed.

      Beyond dispute, The Sleeping Porch is highly imaginative. The illustrations feature interesting work with perspective and are generally intriguing. Wallace’s portrayal of the city melting in the heat is especially clever. The words and illustrations capture that otherworldly dreamy existence that is a bridge between what is real and what is not. Wallace is a talented writer and painter. Many young children and their parents will enjoy this creative tale. I believe, however, that there are areas where Wallace could have improved his work and made this a better book.

Recommended with reservations.

Gregory Bryan teaches children’s literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

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

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.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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