CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 32. . . .April 20, 2018
The Heart’s Song.
Gilles Tibo. Illustrated by Irene Luxbacher. Translated by Petra Johannson.
Toronto, ON: North Winds Press/Scholastic Canada, 2017.
32 pp., hardcover, $16.99.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.
Review by Ellen Wu.
One day, Miss Matilda was fixing a stuffed bear when she heard crying. Jeremy was curled up under the swings. Miss Matilda checked his legs, his arms, his neck, but he wasn't injured.
Still Jeremy kept crying, and Miss Matilda finally understood. His hurt could not be seen.
Miss Matilda opened her suitcase and searched for the right tool. A screwdriver? A bandage? A spool of thread? There was nothing.
At last, Miss Matilda closed her suitcase and knelt beside Jeremy. As he cried, she sang a lullaby. She sang so softly his tears stopped, and she kept singing until he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
They stayed that way for a long time. Whenever a child came to her with a broken toy, she whispered, "Come back later, dear. Right now, I'm mending a broken heart."
Miss Matilda wakes each morning to the sweet singing of her beloved canary. She then gets ready for her day, lugging a big suitcase with her. She's not going away on a trip, however. The community's children, who skip rope and whizz by on scooters, know that she has a routine.
Every once in a while, we are privileged with the gift of holding in our hands truly unique and emotionally riveting books which have the capacity to leave permanent footprints etched in the heart. Mel Tregonning’s Small Things is, undeniably, one of those books. While Tregonning’s untimely passing in 2014 has resulted in her being unable to physically witness the impact that her work has had on so many lives, it is safe to say that the legacy she has left behind in Small Things will continue to inspire and promote awareness for years to come.
Miss Matilda goes to the park and sits on her favourite bench near the sandbox. She knows everyone who passes by, and children come to her with things that need mending: a truck with a wobbly wheel, a broken doll, a bucket with a hole. Her suitcase is an orderly universe of shiny tools: hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, of all shapes and sizes. She is there in all types of weather, freely giving of her skills and kindness to children who need it.
One day, however, a little boy named Jeremy has a problem that can't be fixed with tools. Readers see Jeremy crouched with his heads in his hands, crying, while his caregiver and Miss Matilda sit nearby with concerned expressions. Miss Matilda ponders over how to heal his unseen hurt, and then she knows what to do. She holds Jeremy and sings a lullaby until he closes his eyes and falls asleep. Healed by her song, the little boy returns to the swings.
From that day forward, Miss Matilda heals more than just objects - hearts as well. She keeps a songbook in her suitcase full of melodies she composes while she listens to her beloved canary each morning. Miss Matilda helps a little girl who loses her cat, a boy who wants his dad to come home, a little girl who longs for a friend, and many more. This is depicted through a double spread of Miss Matilda helping children at her green bench, suitcase at her side on sunny days and in the rain.
One morning, however, it is Miss Matilda who needs comforting. She comes to the bench without her suitcase, and adult caregivers and children alike surround Miss Matilda as she mourns the death of her little canary. A double spread shows the canary lying still in Miss Matilda's hand. Miss Matilda sits alone on her bench for the day, grieving. At sunset, however, the community shows Miss Matilda what they have learned from her. The children are singing, and each child holds a suitcase. This touching double spread shows Miss Matilda with her hands clasped in surprise while all the children who have been helped by her throng to her side, singing their heart's song. The children open their bags and bestow Miss Matilda with pictures, poems, and messages of love they created for her, just as she devoted her time to heal and help them.
From a didactic viewpoint, Miss Matilda's innate goodness and wisdom is exemplary. She models behaviour children should embrace as well for she shares her expertise and skills and demonstrates compassion for those around her. From the viewpoint of a lover of good stories, Tibo's story depicts an idealized community we all wished we grew up in, one where intergenerational friendships abound, where it's okay to express your feelings, where music is a therapeutic balm for the soul, and where grief, once shared, can be halved.
Also available in French, Tibo's gentle narrative follows the cadences of the heart and will charm readers young and old alike. It's perfect for repeated read-alouds. Luxbacher's illustrations, which appear to combine different media such as crayons, collage, and digital artwork, represent a diverse cast of characters who rally together to comfort their comforter, all set against a colourful backdrop of an urban park. The Heart's Song is a picture book that would provide the starting point for discussions about what it means to share one's gifts and how to show compassion to those who are hurting. This solid collaboration between storyteller and artist makes an excellent addition to library or personal collections.
Ellen Wu, a teen services librarian working at Surrey Libraries, resides in Vancouver, BC.
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