CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 9 . . . . November 3, 2017
Federica's house is very messy as her family is always too busy to clean up. She hates the mess and prefers to hang out at the park where she can visit with the animals. One day, she comes up with the ingenious idea of having the animals help set her home to rights. She sneaks the animals into her room, two by two, and then convinces her family to go to the park. While they are away, the animals do a remarkable job of cleaning up the house.
The structure of this story is good, and the plot is clear. There is little to no suspense, but the premise is different enough that young readers likely won't notice. There is certainly plenty of room here for discussions about what different animals eat and how we share our urban environments with other animals.
Sadly, while the premise is engaging, the execution leaves something left to be desired. There are just too many things that don't quite work or don't quite make sense. Upon first reading that Federica's parents are too busy to clean the house, one might understandably assume that their time is taken up with earning a living and chasing after two children. It quickly becomes apparent, however, that they are busy with their hobbies. The intent of the book is likely to depict the parents as charmingly distracted; however, the parents come off as borderline neglectful. The animals are also problematic. The most glaring issue is the inexplicable presence of sheep and goats at a municipal park. While some cities have been known to use goats or sheep to tend to their grass, their presence feels odd with no context provided. Beyond that, the animals' motivations are, at times, unclear. For some, the messy house is clearly a smorgasbord, but others seem to clean out of the goodness of their hearts. Having the raccoons wash the dishes and the counters is cute, considering their real-life propensity for dipping their food in water, but it isn't entirely convincing. Likewise, the assertion that raccoons eat garbage is a bit of a stretch considering that a good portion of the house's garbage is comprised of empty containers on the floor.
The ink illustrations are colourful and busy. Each scene appears active as if readers have caught the characters mid-movement. With plenty of detail in each spread, young readers will enjoy looking at the pictures whether they are being read to or simply paging through the book on their own. The artwork supports the text while including details that add to the story.
Federica is a cute book that children will enjoy, but the story never comes together into a totally believable whole.
Sadie Tucker is a children's librarian in Vancouver, BC.