CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 3 . . . . September 16, 2011
When Cosmo, the last dodo bird, and his robot-spaceship friend, 3R-V (so named because he was built using the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle), land on a new planet, they are hoping to find other dodo birds. What they find instead is a planet full of holes and a strange creature named Diggs who has a giant drill-bit for a hat. Diggs is the sixth generation of the only family to inhabit the small planet, and his entire mission in life is to discover his great-great-great-grandfather’s jewel: “The biggest jewel ever found.” All he has is a picture of it. Since he doesn’t know exactly where it is, he spends his days digging up the planet, looking for it. Surly and rude to his visitors, Diggs kicks them off his home, lest they try to steal his jewel from him. Cosmo, ever the environmentalist, sees what Diggs is doing to the planet and can’t let it go. So, he tricks Diggs into getting into 3R-V and going up into space so that he can see the damage he’s causing. Of course, once viewed from so far away, not only does Diggs immediately recognize that he’s putting his planet in jeopardy, but he also notices that the planet matches the picture of the jewel. The planet is the jewel. Upon landing, Diggs makes the requisite promises to change, and Cosmo and 3R-V are off for another adventure.
Patrice Racine’s experience as a graphic designer shines through the glossy illustrations which look like a Saturday morning cartoon. They will appeal to children as something familiar: shiny and bright.
While the desire to introduce environmental themes in a fun way is to be applauded, in In Search of the Jewel, there is no subtlety in the message. It’s as overt as it gets. Drilling is bad. Our planet is the jewel. We must save it. It is an oversimplification of a complicated problem because there are no solutions offered. No shades of grey here. Once Diggs learns his lesson, he decides he must “fill up these dreadful holes. My planet is the real treasure, and now I know I must protect it.”
As a way of introducing environmental messages – which is the stated intent of the series – Cosmo and his adventures are successful. But kids are hearing environmental messages everywhere, and from very young ages. Such a simple “we must protect our planet” message is slightly condescending. There are other books which handle the subject matter in a much better, and more entertaining, way. However, despite an increase in environmentally-themed children’s literature, options are still limited. Parents or teachers who want to introduce the topic may turn to Cosmo as an entrance point to a discussion. He is likely to turn up in Earth Day displays and lessons about oil and drilling.
The publisher indicates that the books are aimed at ages 6-9. However, the message is so simple, and the illustrations so cartoonish, I believe that the books are better suited to a much younger age. Originally published in French, the series has been popular in Quebec (according to the publisher). Whether something has been lost in the translation or the problem stems from the original, the writing is unimaginative and mediocre. The dialogue is too formal and banal to grab children’s attention for very long. It’s just not believable. Add to that a predictable storyline, with stereotypical characters (of course, the digger is gruff and greedy, of course he is), and older children are likely to pass up Cosmo and his adventures.
Despite the prologue and epilogue describing who Cosmo and 3R-V are, and what their background story is, it is not addressed or included as part of the story. Perhaps the overall adventure that Dodo and 3R-V are on feels more exciting and, well, adventurous if you read all four books together. Taken alone, In Search of the Jewel is disjointed and falls flat.
Mark Barb Janicek is a Children’s Librarian with Kitchener Public Library, in Kitchener, ON.
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