CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 11 . . . .February 4, 2005
In Amy Elizabeth Dennis' book James Parsons and His Magnificent Mouth of Adventure, we are put in the shoes of a little girl who longs to see the train that lives in James Parsons' mouth. James Parsons, her older brother's buddy, wears braces, but the little girl believes they are train tracks. She is delighted when James comes to spend the night, and she sneaks down into the basement where the boys sleep. She uses her skipping rope to lasso the runaway train that has escaped from James' mouth. As she clings to the end of the rope, the train burrows through the earth, steams around China and eventually returns to the basement where the boys are still sleeping. Eventually, James has his braces removed, and the young girl's attention is drawn to a boy wearing a metal brace on his leg - a silver rocket.
Judging from the cover illustration of a steam train plummeting through the night sky, this picture book seems targeted to preschool through grade two audiences. Indeed the first page is written in lovely "adult reminiscent" prose similar to Chris Van Allsburg's Polar Express. "I never actually saw the train, but I knew it would come. At night I would look out my bedroom window and stare at his house." Unfortunately, there are occasions when the story, like the train, goes off-track and gets bogged down in wordiness and use of the passive voice: "My heart was a ship that was sinking." The overuse of similes is a minor irritation. "Classmates surrounded him like ants around a dropped popsicle" and on the same page, "Just the thought of seeing his train track teeth again made my knees feel like Aunt Ginny's limp spaghetti."
I found the age of the main character inconsistent. The girl, never identified by name, is young enough to believe that a train resides in James Parsons' mouth. Three months later, she is ignored by James Parsons while at a school dance. The book also fails to find a proper age-niche for its audience. Phrases like "bowels of the basement" and words like "cataclysmic," along with casual mention of the Forbidden City and Great Wall of China seem to overshoot a young audience.
The scratchy pen and ink illustrations by Mary Trach-Holadyk are similar in style to those of Michael Martchenko, illustrator of Robert Munsch's books. They are simple, colourful, and bound to capture the attention of young children.
There is an interesting addendum about the history of dental braces written by Burlington, Ontario orthodontist Dr. John Bozek. The first paragraph is a bit confusing. "How would you feel if you were an archeologist in ancient Egypt, and discovered a mummy wearing dental braces?.....The spectacular find was made in Gizah in 2,500 B.C." That there were archeologists in 2,500 B.C, who dug up mummies, is news to me. Otherwise this section is a fascinating piece of information for parents and older children.
Overall the story misses its mark. It is too long-winded for a young audience (aged 4-6) and the subject matter and picture book presentation make it too "young" looking for older children.
Barb Taylor is an Early Childhood teacher and freelance writer living in Calgary, AB.
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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.