CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 16. . . .December 18, 2015
Mitford at the Fashion Zoo.
New York, NY: Viking (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2015.
42 pp., hardcover, $20.99.
Preschool-grade-2 / Ages 3-7.
Review by Janet Eastwood.
“I have just one question for you,” said Panda. “What do you think of this fashion spread?”
Mitford stared at the pictures for exactly 2.5 seconds, and then Mitford’s nose began to itch. SNIFF, SNIFF.
“Brilliant!” declared Panda. “My thoughts exactly. You’re hired.” And she tossed the entire fashion shoot into the garbage.
When star fashion editor Panda Summers of Cover magazine needs a new assistant fast, it might just be Mitford’s lucky day. Mitford, a giraffe, has always longed to work for Cover, and when the Non-Human Resource Mouse calls, Mitford leaps at the opportunity. Mitford earns a week’s trial as Panda’s assistant during the fashion industry’s busiest time of the year.
Designer after designer
comes howling to Panda for help, and Mitford, through a combination of chance, luck, and good brains, saves the day. Finally, Mitford is rewarded with a host of new friends and a permanent job.
Depicted though animal characters, this loving tribute (and send-up) of the fashion industry has attitude and humour. Extensive interest in the industry is not required, although a passing knowledge of certain name brands will add to the humour. Fashion aficionados will laugh at the Fashion Zoo designers, which include Zap Possum, Shark Jakobs, and Mikael Boars. Readers with no interest whatsoever in fashion can still delight in the puns (eg. Non-Human Resource; a previous assistant who “had run away howling”) and in the narrative style which mirrors the fashion industry’s exaggerated speech patterns and habits. Words in ALL CAPS, italics, and/or both can be found on almost every page. Exclamation marks and multiple question marks (???) pepper sentences, as do catchphrases such as “I’m seeing it,” and the eminently imitable speech style which gives The Fashion Zoo “POUFFITY-POUFF skirts,” “a giant GUSSITY GUST of wind,” and everyone’s “MOST FAVOURITE designers” – “maybe ever.” And yes, Panda and the designers say goodbye with a caroled “kiss, kiss” over the shoulder.
Mitford, sort of an everyhuman, er, everyanimal giraffe, seems initially clueless, though sweet. Like the youngest child in a fairy tale, there are trials Mitford must face before being accepted, and like the often-hapless youngest child, Mitford is in way over Mitford’s (rather tall) head. In the face of overwhelming tasks, Mitford takes the opportunities presented by chance and runs with them with a poise that makes the solution seem a matter of brilliance. Mitford navigates the trials though unexpected means, a mix of accidental solutions and good thinking. Mitford, again like a fairy tale protagonist, possesses and makes use of a wide variety of friends, from fellow giraffes to struggling (rattlesnake) actresses. The fairy tale perfection of this tale is not, however, a contrast to the Fashion Week setting, but a complement. Mitford uses modern means: text messages, a Blue City Bike Card, and taxi cars.
No personal pronouns are used of Mitford, nor does the giraffe’s name or attire (hipster glasses, plus occasional, temporary accessories) indicate sex or gender.
The illustrations are hilarious and just right. Black and white pen drawings with important details painted over (often outside the lines) in colour nail the characterizations, from body language to personal fashion choices. Each significant character is delineated to show his or her individuality. Shark Jakobs, for instance, has naval tattoos and runs around sans shirt. Mitford’s longstanding determination to work for Cover is depicted in a rather endearing inset of Mitford as a pre-teen or teenaged giraffe with braces and large enraptured eyes, settled down to read an issue of Cover. The bold and lively style adds to the narrative tone and to the humour, as in the page with a large drawing of the Non-Human Resource Mouse using a corded telephone taller than herself to call Mitford for his job interview.
Mitford at the Fashion Zoo will likely have a strong appeal to adults and may be better suited to an adult audience than to a child one where knowledge of and interest in fashion are more likely limited or nonexistent. However, an adult reading the story aloud to a child will easily be able to convey the tone and humour, making the book a delight even if the references pass over the audience’s head.
Janet Eastwood is a graduate of UBC’s Master of Arts in Children’s Literature Program.
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