CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 18. . . . January 12, 2017
In Fatima and the Clementine Thieves, readers are introduced to a charismatic young girl living with her beloved grandfather in an unnamed country. Helping to take care of the family clementine orchard, Fatima embraces all aspects of farm life including sharing clementine peel flowers with her friends – the spiders - that live amongst the fruit trees. However when the clementine crops attract a mother elephant and her two babies, with the result being damage to the trees and their fruit, Fatima and her grandfather’s livelihood is threatened.
Failed efforts to ward the animals off with loud noises, water, and thrown pistachios result in the story’s climax with young Fatima begging her grandfather to avoid killing the elephants – the final solution that he and other local men have decided upon. With a resolution speed that is sure to cause some disbelief in readers, Fatima effectively dissolves her grandfather’s planned violence by asking the spiders to assist her by spinning protective webs around the perimeter of the orchard. With spider webs now blocking their way to the orchard, the elephants are forced to pass by the fruit trees, thereby keeping the crops safe from harm and the reader being informed, “They will never return”.
Although the core message of using a nonviolent means of resolution is both a timely and important one, young readers may be upset by the adult suggestion of using guns to shoot the mother elephant and her babies. With the book being aimed at primary children, parents may also find this narrative problematic. However, Fatima’s creative thinking and collaboration with her friends, the spiders, also offer a positive alternative to the potentially life altering loss of her family’s clementine crops. Concluding with the African proverb “When spider webs unite, they can stop elephants”, the story ultimately provides a reminder that sometimes even the most gentle of actions can successfully outwit the strongest opposition.
The most impressive aspect of the book is, without doubt, the gorgeous illustration work done by Gabrielle Grimard. Using a mixed palette of both earth and jewel tones, the pictures often jump off the page, offering a textured glimpse of Fatima’s life on the clementine orchard. Many of Grimard’s detailed illustrations accurately evoke the emotions on the page, providing readers with a greater means of connection and empathy with the title character.
In conclusion, Fatima and the Clementine Thieves is a beautifully illustrated picture book that tells the story of how a small young girl with an impressively quick mind is able to solve a difficult problem without the use of violence – a resolution that even the adults around her are unable to come to.
Recommended with Reservations.
Amy Westbury is a grade 6/7 teacher at Abbey Lane Public School in Oakville, ON.