________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005


Robyn’s Party in the Park. (First Novels, No. 31).

Hazel Hutchins. Illustrated by Yvonne Cathcart.
Halifax, NS: Formac, 2005.
59 pp., pbk. & cl., $5.95 (pbk.), $14.95 (cl.).
ISBN 0-88780-662-7 (pbk.), ISBN 0-88780-663-5 (cl.).

Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.

Review by Caitlin Fralick.

*** /4


Saturday morning I tried to sell my latest, greatest idea to my mom.

“Did you know that birthday parties help kids grow up happy and normal?” I asked her. “The best ones have about ten kids, lots of games and a cake that makes everyone go ‘Wow.’”

Mom looked at me over the top of the newspaper. “I thought you liked going special places with Marie on your birthday,” she said.

“I do,” I said. “But I also want to grow up happy and normal.”

“We both want you to be happy, Robyn,” said Mom, “but I always thought you found ‘normal’ a little boring.”

I didn’t answer.  I didn’t want to ruin things.

Well-known Canadian children’s author Hazel Hutchins has a hit on her hands with her series about Robyn, a young girl trying to make her way through the complicated twists and turns of life. Part of the “First Novels” collection, the Robyn stories are funny and entertaining, capturing the delightful volatility of being a kid.

     Robyn is a slightly precocious heroine who, in this installment, is planning her birthday party. Much to her chagrin, her mother wants her to invite her entire class to the festivities, even the “Three G’s”, Grant, Linden and Ari, whose collective wildness can be overwhelming, and Jessica Johnston, a girl who is not quite Robyn’s friend or enemy. While she would like to invite only her friends to the party, Robyn follows through on her mother’s suggestion and invites the whole class, even Jessica. But when she delivers the invitation to Jessica’s door, the awful truth comes out—Jessica’s party is on the same day, at Smiling Sam’s, a fancy new restaurant for kids. To make matters worse, Robyn is not invited—but her best friend Marie is. In the end, everything works out. Robyn changes the day of her party so that the whole class can still come, and, in spite of writing “Gifts not Necessary” (in very small print, of course) on the invitations, Robyn receives some wonderful presents from her closest friends. She even finds out that her landlord will allow the family to have a pet cat, which is the best present of all.

     What might have been tossed off as a rather boring narrative is spiced up here by the realistic portrayal of childhood conflict. Hutchins does not gloss over Robyn’s and Jessica’s complicated relationship; instead, she embraces the discomfort and miscommunication that befalls the two girls. Although Jessica attends Robyn’s party, Robyn still concludes that she will never understand her; nevertheless, she feels content in how the day turns out. Robyn’s humour also sets this book apart. She is a genuinely funny character, promising “Burnt Hot Dogs” and “Games so Hard your Brain will Bust” to her party guests (not to mention the threat of throwing cheaters to the wolves). Hutchins has also created a rich network of secondary characters, from Robyn’s neighbours, Mr. and Mrs. Kelly and their children, to her mother and friends. Robyn’s close relationship with her mother and neighbours in particular help foster a sense that a family can mean more than just blood relations. Family comes from listening and talking, giving and receiving—things Robyn learns to do every day. Readers will appreciate the positive, caring tone of the book, as well as its funny touches. Yvonne Cathcart’s black and white illustrations are a perfect complement, full of movement and whimsy, a style which echoes the comedic nature of Robyn’s first-person narration. The Robyn series will be enjoyed by young readers as an early foray into the world of chapter books.


Caitlin Fralick is a prospective children’s librarian in the Master of Library Studies programme at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.


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

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