________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 35. . . .May 15, 2015


This is Sadie.

Sara O’Leary. Illustrated by Julie Morstad.
Toronto, ON: Tundra books, 2015.
32 pp., hardcopy & ebook, $19.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-532-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-533-3 (ebook).

Preschool-grade 5 / Ages 4-10.

Review by Barbara McNeil.

***½ /4


Sadie’s perfect day is spent with friends,
Some of them live on her street,
And some live in the pages of books


internal artDiving into children’s literature can be a refreshing experience, and it is this quality of refreshment along with enjoyment that marked my journey through the picture book, This is Sadie. The way the story is written, as well as the voice in which the story is told, help to create a narrative that is alluring and credible. Sadie is an unforgettable protagonist who is active, has verve, and, above all else, an impressive imagination. She is fortunate: her imagination, her subjectivity has been produced and shaped by the literature, the reading, to which she has been exposed and of which she now partakes. The story opens with a commanding, compelling, and clear voice of a third person (limited) narrator who shares all that readers need to know about Sadie.

This is Sadie.
No, not that. That’s a box.
Sadie is inside the box.

Wait, do you hear?
Sadie says she’s not inside the box at all.
“I’m on an enormous boat,” she says,
“crossing a wide, wide sea.”

     From the beginning, the powerful narrative voice that pilots the reader makes strong declarative statements as we can see in the above, conducts, questions, and sometimes relays messages that the savvy Sadie wishes to convey. This narrative voice is adroitly supported by illustrations that are rendered in gouache, watercolour and pencil crayon. The images are as captivating. The opening illustration, showing Sadie’s ebony-haired head peeking out of a tan coloured box that sits on a blue, azure, green, and tan patchwork quilt, displays the steady hand of skillful artist whose work charms and delights with its simplicity, soft beauty, and credibility.

     The story beckons readers firmly and tactfully while positioning them to pay attention to the tale that the narrator has to tell—a tale about a character that is worthwhile and important. Like a videographer whose camera is trained on an important subject, the narrator is committed to zooming in and informing readers about Sadie. “Here is Sadie now,” says the narrator; “she’s looking for land. Only she’s not looking too hard.” And with this, readers get their first full glimpse of Sadie, now on an imagined and realistically rendered boat at sea, quietly contemplating a sea bird that has come to visit.

     As the narrator and the illustrator unfurl the story, readers move between Sadie’s imagined worlds and the natural one. An example of this is the visual depiction of Sadie’s being on the boat at sea and the real or natural world that is depicted in the next double-page spread—an image of her bedroom that shows the box from which she imagined being at sea. The box, patchwork quilt and even the boat in a bottle that sits atop a pile of books in her bedroom are effective devices that connect real objects to Sadie’s fantasies and that also help young readers transition between the real and imagined worlds of this creative and lively work. Sadie’s room is filled with material things that fuel her fancy. It is filled with nails, a hammer, a screw-driver, dresses, pants, a vase of flowers, a mask in the shape of a fox, a stuffed fox, a record player, and a half-eaten apple to mention just some of the items that are fodder for Sadie’s rich imagination. It was a delight to see a pyjama-clad, hammer-swinging Sadie in the midst of constructing a wood-work project to launch her day.

     The blending of the real and the imagined is a recurring and noteworthy aspect of This is Sadie. A place where it is especially pleasing is the double-page spread where Sadie spends a perfect day with friends: some of whom “live on her street,” and others who “live in the pages of books.” Here, the illustrator’s soothing yet visually appealing images make literary allusions to Sadie’s literary friends (e.g., Little Red Riding Hood, long-haired Rapunzel etc.) and her real world, multiracial real friends who swim and frolic happily together in a turquoise looking pool. From this delectable illustration, readers will find enjoyment, refreshment and lots of fancy. This is no less true of an illustration that depicts adventure-loving Sadie in a tree top “chit-chatting” with blue birds while her stuffed fox waits for her in the basket attached to her red bicycle beneath the tree.

     Conveyed by narration and illustration, readers get to see Sadie as principal participant in the fantastic worlds fueled by her literary imagination. Like many youngsters who engage with literature, Sadie is the lead character, “the hero” in her fanciful role-play of the fairy tales. For instance, readers see Sadie as a mermaid in a lush undersea world (perhaps prompted by hearing or reading Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Mermaid”) and atop a magnificent white steed (perhaps based on the prince in “Snow White”). Readers also see the unleashing of her rich fantasy life in the depiction of a verdant, tropical setting that includes a snake and a tiger pretending to be a boy raised by wolves (likely inspired by Kipling’s Mowgli from The Jungle Book). Along with those three literary allusions, is the pièce de resistance; Sadie (in top Hat) in the role of Hatter at the Mad Tea Party from chapter seven of Alice in Wonderland. As in the previous imaginary settings, Sadie takes centre stage in this adventure. Similar to Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice is a guest, but in this imaginative rendition, Sadie is a generous hostess presiding over a table laden with teapots, cupcakes, and teacups a plenty. It is a particularly striking and compositionally satisfying illustration.

     With only six words of text, it is the illustrator’s artistry that speaks eloquently and beautifully in the visualization of the tea party. The scene is enlivened with colourful chairs (a red one for Sadie), a pink plate, heaps of water-coloured cups all atop a chalk-white tablecloth on a huge table standing on a flower-covered lawn. It is a delectable and perfectly rendered scene in which Julie Morstad excels as an illustrator! If readers look carefully, they will find Sadie’s stuffed brown fox leaning against one of the white table legs and that of a hot pink chair. Wherever her imagination takes her, Sadie always travels with something from home.

     There is much to appreciate about this gentle picture-book reminder of playfulness, fancy, and make-believe. Children will find resonance in the pages where they are told that “Sadie has wings …” but “just very, very hard to see” and where they see Sadie trying out her wings. This is also where readers see Sadie when she is about to take off from a red stool and where the narrator directly asks youngsters to check to see if they, too, have wings. The question is pertinent; it wakes up readers, establishes a direct connection, and pulls them into the story. This is the stuff of a literary childhood and part of the allure of O’Leary and Morstad’s book. The creators are not only presenting a unique and seemingly familiar character, they are also suggesting how readers might be, how they might think and act. Sadie is being offered as a role model; one whose “wings can take her anywhere she wants to go” … and “bring her home again.”

     At this historical moment in Canada, it is encouraging to encounter a picture book not totally given over to naturalism, but, rather, one that focalizes an enchanting period in childhood; fun-filled days where books inspire a delightful list of “things to make and do”. This includes imaginative play, story, and art-making, as is depicted on the page that shows Sadie in a castle made out of blankets and cushions and whatever else she could find around her.

     Yes, Sadie has found a source of enchantment—stories, the thing she likes “more than anything because you can make them from nothing at all.” When readers leave Sadie (reluctantly, I might add), she is reading a story about a snail while wearing snail inspired tentacles on her head. Readers then see her asleep with a box on her back reminiscent of the coiled shell of a snail. There is an open book on the floor beside her. Transported by a book, Sadie has slipped into fantasyland, and readers will be gladdened by it.

     Though the book has considerable affective power, it is important to note that in a story that celebrates the vivid fantasy life of an endearing young girl, the reference to “old people need[ing]” on page six (numbered by reviewer) where she is depicted hammering nails, seems unnecessary and anachronistic to the mood, theme, plot and tone of the story. Furthermore, when readers move beyond the surface of the words, such a reference appears inhospitable to cultivating respect and reverence for elders in children. That said, This is Sadie is an irresistible book filled with a charm that entrances and a heroine that is unforgettable. Sara O’Leary’s fine narrative is sublimely complemented by the exceptional and aesthetically appealing art of Julie Morstad. Don’t miss this one! It is delightful.

Highly Recommended.

Barbara McNeil is an instructor in the Faculty of Education, the University of Regina.

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

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