CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 3. . . .September 26, 2008
Where You Came From.
Sara O'Leary. Illustrated by Julie Morstad.
Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books, 2008.
32 pp., board, $16.95.
Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 3-8.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
No, says his father.
Don't you remember?
Your mother found you
at the supermarket.
She says she has no idea
why you were in the sale bin.
There was absolutely nothing wrong with you.
Given the quality and success of Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad's collaboration on When You Were Small, I was delighted to see them join forces again for a sequel—Where You Came From.
In Where You Came From, the inquisitive young Henry asks his parents about where he came from. Rather than beginning to quiver at the knees at the prospect of a "birds and bees" talk, Henry's playful parents take Henry's question as the ideal set-up for them to have some fun. Each parent seemingly is bent on trying to outdo the other with a series of preposterously imaginative scenarios for Henry's origins. His father says that a flock of crows delivered Henry. No, says his mother, fairies delivered Henry. No, says Henry's father, Henry was found floating down a river in a basket. Each suggestion is wilder, and funnier, than its predecessor.
The award winning, When You Were Small, was also short-listed for the 2007 Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award, one of the most prestigious awards in Canadian children's literature. I think that the sequel is even better, although I think the improvement is primarily in the text. Morstad's illustrations retain the same high quality of When You Were Small, but O'Leary's writing is stronger in the sequel. O'Leary's acute sense of humour seems sharper in Where You Came From, and I also think that the first and last page of text provide a better framework for a more complete and satisfying story than is the case in the first book.
O'Leary's text is concise, but one must admire the fact that she can cram so many laughs into so few words. Despite the overtly humorous tone to the writing, O'Leary's text manages to retain a satisfyingly mild feel that is in perfect harmony with the equally humorous but gentle book illustrations. This "gentleness" is important because, although Henry's parents are teasing, they are doing so in a playful, and definitely not hurtful or spiteful, manner. The age-appropriate softness of the book is facilitated, in part, through the inclusion of such things as butterflies, fairies, balloons and puppies. In addition to adding movement, the swirling, circular or curved lines of the artwork further add to the gentle feel to the book.
Morstad's charming illustrations employ soft colours and most often depict the baby Henry naked but for a diaper. In each illustration, Morstad also uses lines to add texture, shading and contrast to the artwork.
Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad are an imaginative, artistic pair, and they work together very well. The work of one complements the work of the other, and, together, the sum of the parts—the text and the illustrations—is considerably stronger than one part alone. Simply Read Books are to be congratulated on the sturdy and durable presentation of Where You Came From. The strong binding, heavy cover and thick paper suggest this is a book made to last, despite repeated handlings from inquisitive young children and their parents or grandparents. Where You Came From might not serve as a substitute for the big "birds and bees" talk, but, if you have young children in your home, this is a book not to miss.
Gregory Bryan works at the University of Manitoba where he teaches children's literature courses in the Faculty of Education.
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