________________ CM . . . . Volume I Number 13 . . . . September 8, 1995

Sticks and Stone

Pierrette Dubé. Illustrated by Dominique Jolin.
Richmond Hill: Scholastic, 1995.
24pp, paper, $5.99.
ISBN 0-590-24628-23

Kindergarten - grade 3 / Ages 5 - 8.
Review by A. Edwardsson


When she was five, Gwendolyn-Joy Morrison-Power began to find her name a bit awkward. She was often making new friends, at the park, at the skating rink or at swimming class. Every time, they ended up asking the same question: "What's your name?" And when she answered Gwendolyn-Joy Morrison-Power, their eyes got big and round.

Poor kid. At age three, Gwendolyn-Joy Morrison-Power "thought she had a pretty good name. . . . It wasn't a baby name." But at the tender age of four and half, she encounters Jonathan Bain, the terror of the daycare. Jonathan teases everyone else about their name with rhyming insults, but Gwendolyn-Joy's stumps him. So far so good, until she can't fit her whole moniker at the bottom of her kindergarten artwork; Jonathan seizes the moment, and from then on, there's no stopping him.

In grade one, her full name printed out at the bottom a test paper resembles "a train that had jumped its tracks and was falling over a cliff. So Gwendolyn-Joy Morrison-Power threw a hairy fit." She rejects possible solutions -- using initials would make her name look like a disease, and she can't decide what part of her name she could leave out: "Gwendolyn" is too pretty to drop, and without the "Joy," "her name would be as boring as a rainy Saturday." (Though why the pretty name would be boring isn't clear.) Here and elsewhere, word balloons that appear outside the text give us a fun look at Gwen's personality -- "G.-J. M.-P., bleh!"

Finally in grade two things begin to improve. Her name seems shorter when written rather than printed, and Jonathan Bain has grown up and now has a crush on her.

Children with difficult names will be able to relate to Gwendolyn-Joy's problems, and others can empathize with her plight. Unfortunately, most readers will also have several questions.

Why isn't she on a first name basis with her teachers and classmates? Couldn't her friends just call her Gwen? Is there perhaps another Gwendolyn-Joy in the class so that everyone must use her full name to avoid confusion? Do kindergartens really expect children who have just learned to print to sign their full names, and if not, why is this child torturing herself?

The premise of Sticks and Stones is entertaining, but I wish our heroine had come up with a solution to her problems rather than just grow out of them. Youngsters in kindergarten and grade one with unwieldy names may not be satisfied with the "patience is a virtue" moral.

Although the story is amusing and flows easily, there are several puns that might be a bit sophisticated for the audience -- for example, when Gwen is pondering which of her names to cut: "Power? That was her father's name. Dad would say, `Absolutely not. You cannot cut the Power like that!' " (She also has a nightmare about a butcher cutting her name like a salami -- he murmurs "I'll do it quickly, you won't feel a thing.")

The illustrations by Dominique Jolin are delightful, and reminiscent of the whimsical artwork of Babette Cole (The Trouble with Mom). The characters' movements and emotions are clear and scenes often include small, believable details, like the broken crayons on the art table or the balding head of a male teacher. Only one image seems out of sync: at age three, Gwen is shown expertly jumping through a hopscotch grid, and nearby chalk suggests that she has drawn the perfectly formed numbers on the sidewalk herself.

Sticks and Stones is the English translation of Pierrette Dubé's original Nom de Nom!, which won an award for excellence in Livrélus magazine. It is very similar in content to Kevin Henke's outstanding picture book Chrysanthemum. Sticks and Stones would be an acceptable purchase, but Henke's work has a more rewarding ending.

Recommended with reservations.

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

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364