________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


The Pepins and Their Problems.

Polly Horvath. Illustrated by Marilyn Hafner.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood, 2004.
179 pp., pbk., $13.95.
ISBN 0-88899-633-0.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

**1/2 /4


And they were off! Like chargers they flew toward Event Number One – the Shoveling-Snow-off-the-Whole-Sidewalk-Even-Though-Some-of-It-Runs-Past-Your-Neighbor’s-House Event. There was no snow on the sidewalks, so the neighbors had to pantomime. One poor woman got frost bite and had to be carried to a waiting ambulance. Another slipped on the imaginary ice and was nearly trampled, but Mr. Bradshaw helped her up and sat with her until she felt herself again, by which time Miss Poopenstat and many of the other neighbors were well into the second event – the Chicken-Soup-Delivery-to-the-Sick. Many thought they could get away with what they had on hand, but one after another carrying tomato, chilli beef, and chunky vegetable were turned away at the Pepins’ door and disqualified.


The Pepins, though not unlike most other suburban families on the surface – mother, father, daughter, son, pets, house, school, jobs, neighbors, etc. – are actually quite different once you get to know them. For one thing, their pets can talk and, on occasion, fly halfway across the country, which might not be that great an achievement were they birds or bats or butterflies, but the Pepins’ pets are a dog and a cat. The other noteworthy difference between the Pepins and most other families is the nature of the problems they encounter and the means by which they solve them.

     As the title implies, the book is an endless parade of Pepin problems, beginning with toads in their shoes and ending (only because the book does – the Pepins’ problems go on forever) with the mysterious disappearance of their cutlery. It is perhaps unfair to criticize the Pepins too harshly for their inability to solve their dilemmas without help from others, since the majority of their misfortunes are somewhat unique. Besides, group problem-solving is the whole point of the book.

     It is an interactive venture. To my knowledge, The Pepins and Their Problems is the first – perhaps the only – book to actively involve readers in the story. Polly Horvath, it appears, has been gifted with an uncanny ability to hear the thoughts of readers throughout all of Canada (it’s rather like Santa’s ability to see good and bad children, but on a literary level), and each time the Pepins get bogged down, Horvath opens the airwaves, and a flurry of potential solutions pour in from such quaint-sounding places as Witless Bay, Newfoundland, Spuzzum, B.C., Pickle Lake, Ontario, and Saint-Louis-du-Ha!Ha!, Quebec. The Pepins choose one of these offerings, the problem is solved (sort of), and the little family moves on to the next disaster.

     The Pepins and Their Problems is a silly book with a capital SILLY! But every now and then, that’s exactly what readers need. This book would be great fun for adults and children to share, either as a classroom read-aloud or chapter by chapter at bedtime.


Kristin Butcher lives in Victoria, BC, and writes books for children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.