________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 17 . . . . January 13, 2017


The Branch.

Mireille Messier. Illustrated by Pierre Pratt.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-77138-564-0.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Gregory Bryan and Penny Kasten.

**** /4



Mom stands next to me at the window. Her breath makes a cloud on the glass.

"We're lucky the whole thing didn't come down!" she says.

"What came down?" I ask.

That's when I see it.

At the foot of my tree lies a big broken branch.

I rush down the stairs and out the door.

That was the branch I sat on, jumped from, played under.

It was my castle, my spy base, my ship…

Ice storm damage to her favourite tree inspired Canadian author Mireille Messier to pen her new picture book, The Branch. Just as Messier loved her magnolia named Albert, the young protagonist in The Branch loves her tree and is devastated when it is damaged in a winter storm. Told from the first person perspective of a young girl, The Branch is a story promoting the value of cooperation, imagination, and persistence.

      Messier captures the authentic voice of a child experiencing an emotional roller coaster of loss: anger, doubt, discovery, hope, triumph, and joy. Messier's precise word choices create a vivid picture of a city in clean-up mode. Residents are described as "digging and scraping" as they collect fallen branches and pile them "like beaver dams in the city". As the girl says, with everything covered in ice, "it looks like the entire neighborhood has been wrapped in a heavy blanket of diamonds". She says it is beautiful but also a "little scary". One can almost feel "the splintery part of the trunk where the branch used to be" and the cold of the ice as the girl runs her fingers along the bumpy branch surface.

      Messier's writing is so skilful that readers are able to create such pictures in their minds it is almost unnecessary for the book to be illustrated. Fortunately, however, the book is illustrated. The wonderful written text is perfectly complemented by Pierre Pratt's artwork. The mixed media illustrations are boldly coloured. The dynamic, fluid compositions consist of swirling shapes made with thick brush strokes that add movement and interest to the book. The lavish colours reflect the chilly scenes where blues, greens, and white are contrasted against the orange brickwork, warm yellow and red coats, and the girl's pink boots. In the 1990s, Pratt won three Governor General's Literary Awards for his book illustrations. The Branch was also a worthy finalist for the award again in 2016. Just as Messier's words are good enough to stand alone, Pratt's art effectively tells the story by itself. Together, the whole is greater than the sum of its wonderful parts.

      One of the many pleasing aspects of the book is the respectful collaboration between the young girl and her elderly neighbour. They work together in a way that clearly is to the benefit of each of them. The Branch is appropriate for young readers but will similarly appeal to readers of all ages. Perhaps older readers will recognize within the broken branch and the story's conclusion a symbolic representation of the idea that if something is lost or broken, good can come from it. It is a story filled with hope.

Highly Recommended.

Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba. He specializes in children's literature.
Penny Kasten teaches grade one in Winnipeg, MB. She is a graduate student in the Faculty of Education.

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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