________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 23 . . . . February 20, 2015


The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred.

Lili Chartrand. Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard.
Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014.
32 pp., pbk., $10.95.
ISBN 978-1-55455-346-4.

Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.

Review by Stacey Matson.

***½ /4



After school one day, for no particular reason, I decided to cross the park to get home.

Suddenly I was drawn to a man sitting on a bench. Head bent, he was turning the pages of a book—an invisible book.

Curious, I sat beside the man.

"Your book looks quite interesting! What's it about?"

"It's a collection of stories," the man replied, his little, bright eyes settling onto mine. "If you like, I could read you one."

I nodded my head quickly. I loved stories!

He asked me my name and I asked him his.

"My name is Mr. Fred."

Pierrot is a daydreamer with very few friends, until he meets Mr. Fred. Mr. Fred is a bit of a loner, too, but he's also an amazing storyteller. Each day, Pierrot meets Mr. Fred in the park to hear Mr. Fred's read amazing stories from his invisible book.

internal art      One day, Mr. Fred doesn't share a story from the invisible book. Instead, he tells Pierrot his own sad life story, and how Pierrot reminds him of the son he lost in a house fire. Pierrot is amazed to mean so much to this man who, in turn, means so much to Pierrot. Consequently, when Mr. Fred doesn't show up one day, Pierrot realizes that he must go find his new and only friend.

      The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred is a widely lauded book in Quebec, now translated into English, and it's easy to see why it was translated. The illustrations by Grimard are large, lively and imaginative. They bring the story off the page, with bold double page spreads and full bleed colour illustrations. Grimard creates Mr. Fred's world with long watercolour and gouache brush strokes, but also rounder shapes, often enveloping Mr. Fred and Pierrot in the world of dragons or colourful birds. The illustrations make it feel like there's so much more to the story than what we are seeing, and this allows readers to dream up other parts of Mr. Fred's magical world. One illustration that was particularly breathtaking was the image from Mr. Fred's memory of the house fire that takes his wife and son away from him, an illustration in which Grimard uses deep blues contrasted with blends of yellow and white extremely effectively.

      The narrative moves very quickly; there is no moment to stop and take in the story as it happens. I wanted more opportunities to engage with Mr. Fred's stories and the moments between Mr. Fred and Pierrot. It felt like the opportunities to breathe into the narrative got lost in the translation. I was also surprised that the book jumped so far into the future on the final pages, telling readers about Pierrot and his wife and son. The story is told as a memory, setting readers up on the first page by saying "Growing up, I always had my head in the clouds," but I was very happy with the conclusion of the story without the ending, which felt like an unnecessary epilogue. As a reader, I understood that Pierrot and Mr. Fred had made a lasting connection, and so the final pages undermined the rest of the story for me.

      I also hesitated over the age recommendation for this book. The illustrations are beautiful, but the story is quite sad and mature. The nostalgic tone may be lost on younger readers, but grown-ups reading to kids may like the reflections on friendships, inspiration and connections.

Highly Recommended.

Stacey Matson is a writer living in Vancouver, BC. She recently finished her MA in children's literature at the University of British Columbia, and her first children's novel, A Year in the Life of a Total and Complete Genius, came out in September 2014.

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

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