________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 33. . . .April 30, 2010.


Chester's Masterpiece.

Mélanie Watt.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2010.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-55453-566-8.

Subject Heading:
Cats-Juvenile fiction.

Preschool-grade 3 / Ages 4-8.

Review by Gregory Bryan.





This is dedicated to CATS and to MY FANS everywhere!!! Plus, I would like to thank what’s-her-name for leaving her stuff lying around and, most of all, I would like to thank MYSELF (Chester) for being clever enough to hide her computer mouse (which tastes like chicken by the way).

Kids Can Press’s “Chester” series of books is popular with children and adults. Mélanie Watt’s idea of a story protagonist who refuses to cooperate with his creator was innovative and is fun. The books make terrific early years classroom read-alouds for two or three voices (with the mouse as the third voice). I have shared all three books from the series with young children who thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and, together, we have shared a lot of laughs at Chester’s mischievous ways and at Watt’s ultimate victories over her uncooperative protagonist. Additionally, on the strength of the “Chester” books and the “Scaredy Squirrel” series, my youngest daughter has long proclaimed Mélanie Watt her favourite author.

     The third and, I hate to say it; hopefully the final book in the Chester series is Chester’s Masterpiece. I love the Chester concept, but I think it has now run its race. Chester’s Masterpiece provides more of the same—more of the same clever humour—that was abundant in Chester and Chester’s Back. But, for me, although there is much to like about Chester’s Masterpiece, the second and third book in the series have not really added much that is new.

     internal artIn Chester’s Masterpiece, Chester has hidden the materials the author needs to create a new book. This gives Chester free rein to take control. Whereas the first two books consisted of inserts and asides from Chester, this third book is largely “created” by Chester, with “sticky note” additions from Mélanie. Indeed, Chester’s work is so prominent (and he gets so carried away with scribbling with his red marker and colouring the end pages) that Mélanie is eventually able to seize back control of the book when Chester’s marker runs dry. The marker running dry is trademark Mélanie Watt humour. Watt is clever and imaginative and, quite simply, she is funny. I wonder, however, if she may have missed the mark with the ultimate punch line for Chester’s Masterpiece. Whereas the previous books’ punch lines have seen Chester transformed into a fairy and a star, in this case, he is ultimately transformed into a mime. Many of the young target audience do not know what a mime is; let alone who Marcel Marceau was. For the young children with whom I have shared Chester’s Masterpiece (including a whole classroom of grade one students), I have found it necessary to explain the concept of mimes.

     In addition to mimes, there are several other story elements that demand more sophistication of the reader than do the previous books. Such things include the notion of writer’s block, the play on words used in creating a recipe for a good story, and the juxtaposition of a computer mouse and a real house mouse. In all of these cases, Watt’s humour will go over the head of some of her young audience.

     No doubt, Chester’s fans (like me) will find much to enjoy in Chester’s Masterpiece. The book is a good one because Watt is a talented writer and artist and because the original story idea behind the Chester series was creative and funny. That said, I also suspect that, as a fan of Chester, I will not be alone in being just a little disappointed with the latest instalment.

Recommended with reservations.

Gregory Bryan is a professor of children’s literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

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

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