________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Sand Castles.

Florence Bolté. Illustrated by Mentalo. Translated by Jean Bolté & Liliane Marchand Bolté.
Mont-Saint-Hilaire, PQ: Pirouli, 2000.
46 pp., hardcover, $18.00.
ISBN 978-2-922754-01-8

Kindergarten-grade 5 / Ages 5-10.

Review by Carrie Subtelny.

*** /4


This is me, Aixa! Axia sweetheart, as my dad often calls me...I live by the sea, in a white and pink house. I live there with my dad, my mom and also with Kiki. In our garden, you can see a guinea-hen, a turkey-cock, a rooster and a few goats.

cover Snow Castles.

Florence Bolté. Illustrated by Mentalo. Translated by Philip Lee.
Mont-Saint-Hilaire, PQ: Pirouli, 2005.
58 pp., hardcover, $18.00.
ISBN 978-2-922754-05-6

Kindergarten-grade 5 / Ages 5-10.

Review by Carrie Subtelny.

*** /4


Uncle Loulou took us to visit our apartment, not to far from his. There are people living above, below and next to us. What I like most is the hallway. There's a place where machines swallow coins to wash and dry clothes. And there's a wonderful smell of apple pie and cinnamon floating in the air. Hummm!

Upon receipt of these books, I was immediately taken by the brilliant colours on the cover as well as the expressive artwork. When I simply held the books up to two students (boy, grade 5; girl, grade 7), they immediately responded by taking a further look and began skimming the text. Both agreed that the front covers were vibrant and warm and invited you to want to know more about these stories.

     I realized quite quickly that it is best to read the volumes in order, Sand Castles and then Snow Castles as the stories do follow each other in terms of sequence and meaning, and meeting them in chronological order will help readers create a relationship with the main character and join her in her journey.

     I do wish there was a pronunciation guide for her name… I felt a bit disconnected from her as I was never quite sure if I was pronouncing her name correctly while I was reading, and personally, that is one of my own ego needs – to hear my name correctly said! I was also constantly wondering what country she was living in and moved from! Her home sounds and looks so fantastic and ALIVE that I want to know where it is so I can plan a visit some day.

     And so, to Sand Castles. I quite loved hearing this story from Aixa’s voice and perspective. She is trying to make sense of a challenging decision – moving from her birth country to a foreign land - and is brave enough to honour the choice her parents make at an age older than 5! The love she has for her home and family and pet, Kiki, and other animals is clear.
internal art
She seems to be a passionate child who is full of zest and spirit.These characteristics shine through the dazzling pictures as well as the voice given to her by the author, Bolte. She also seems a bit more sophisticated for her years as she tries to figure out the role of the mean soldier and compares politics to mosquitoes. Aixa is also very intuitive at the farewell party. She is able to read the heaviness of the occasion, but in an appropriate way from her perspective.

   I’m not quite sure about some of structural features – the use of long dashes instead of quotation marks, during dialogue. I’m not familiar with this type of editing, and from a ‘teacher perspective’ I would prefer to see the use of quotation marks to clearly indicate dialogue for the reader and to be able to follow the ‘flow’ of conversation with greater ease.

    Despite some structural confusion, Sand Castles would be a wonderful addition to all classroom and school libraries, especially since there are many children who share Aixa’s story. It is often difficult to locate authentic text that depicts so intimately the voice of a child who is moving from their home to a new country. As citizens who have never had to relocate, we can sometimes forget that folks who are new to our city have come from their home – a home that is filled with their stories and comforts and roots. This story is a beautiful reminder of the significance of our roots – of where we come from and how that shapes us.

    Sand Castles sets the stage nicely for Snow Castles, and the game at the end of Sand Castles is a fantastic bonus. I love how it enriches vocabulary, curiosity and cooperation.

internal art

    In the sequel, Snow Castles, Axia is so positive! She sees the wonder of her new surroundings and describes the sights and smells with such authentic delight – “…machines swallow coins to wash and dry clothes.” I also love how Bolte describes Aixa’s first taste of snow as well as her first time skating, “It’s like clouds. I stick my nose in. It smells good.” and “People look like snow-stars on a mirror.”

    Unfortunately, Aixa’s ‘snow joy’ is squashed when she starts school. Bolte captures her loneliness and isolation quite well. Aixa is picked on. School children are curious about her differences and are mean. They tease her about her hair and skin colour and even the way she speaks. As a reader, your heart aches for Axia. Meeting Granny Micmac is a terrific surprise as she shares her traditions with the children to comfort and unify them.

    While reading, it is apparent that certain phrases and clues are more meaningful for readers who can identify with Aixa’s country of origin. My only disappointment was not knowing if she got what she wanted for Christmas. I am thinking that the picture clues give me the answers…but perhaps this is what will connect me to a further volume?

    I am also impressed by the simple abundance presented in this book. The Christmas tree is adorned with simpleness, and the number of gifts under the tree is a testament of gratitude.

    When reading this pair of books to the younger grades, frequent “checks for comprehension” will need to be made to ensure the children receive the richness and ‘voice’ of the story.


Carrie Subtelny is a Reading Clinician with the Inner City District in the Winnipeg School Division in Winnipeg, MB.

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