________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 14 . . . . March 18, 2005

cover Francesca and the Magic Bike.

Cynthia Nugent.
Vancouver, BC: Raincoast Books, 2004.
213 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 1-55192-561-3.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Jane Bridle.

*** /4


Frankie stood in the doorway and gawked at who she saw sitting in an armchair by the fireplace. She was tiny, old and wrinkled. She sat leaning both hands on a knobby stick shaped like a "v" at the top. There were great big rings on every finger. Her chin and big bony nose were tilted up - haughty and aristocratic. Dark glasses covered her eyes and her gray hair curled into a stiff hairdo. She wore a blue blazer and blue jeans with a white blouse and a grey-and-blue paisley silk cravat. Her tiny feet were shod in soft, scuffed brown leather.

"So, now that you've been fed, you can tell me what your name is and where you belong," the old lady said in a bossy English voice.

"My name's Frankie and I live next door."

After the death of her mother, 10-year-old Francesca arrives at the doorstep of her father, Ron Rudderless, a dysfunctional failure with a weakness for the bottle. While Ron is determined to reform and become a "Good Father," Frankie is left to cope on her own. She meets her next door neighbour, the blind and elderly Augusta Halberton-Ffrench. Aware that a social worker may take Frankie away from Ron unless he enrolls in an addiction program, Augusta sends Frankie on a mission to find a ring lost at the bottom of a lake. Frankie embarks on the adventure with Augusta's dog, Dan, on the Hippogriff, a bike with magical powers. The long lost ring, created by a process invented by Augusta's father, is imbued with the feelings and character of Augusta's mother.

     Augusta, who also lost her own mother at an early age, is a fairy godmother in disguise who leads Frankie to discover her own gifts of imagination, visualization and memory. The buoyant Frankie, through her own bravery and resourcefulness, ends up uniting the disparate characters in a heart-warming and satisfying ending.

     Middle school readers will delight in the novel's magic realism. Frankie is an engaging character who possesses a hopeful nature. The naming of the other characters, who all have larger than life traits, is reminiscent of Charles Dickens. The caricatures range from the eccentric Augusta-Ffrench, who quotes Oscar Wilde, to the lazy, shifty housekeeper, Violet Slatternly, to Edgar Proteus III, the great grandson of an inventor. The themes of the loss of a parent and coping with the benign neglect of a parent who is struggling with other problems are sensitively portrayed.

     "Tween" readers will enjoy this work from first time novelist Cynthia Nugent who has previously illustrated several picture books including Lois Simmie's Mister Go to Go and Arnie and When Cats Go Wrong by Norm Hacking. Nugent is currently working on a teacher's guide to Francesca and the Magic Bike.


Jane Bridle is a Youth Services Librarian at Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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