CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 32. . . .April 19, 2013
What a Party!, by celebrated Brazilian author Ana Maria Machado, is a celebration of diversity and of the sense of community. Augmented by Hélène Moreau’s illustrations, it is an attractive book that fits neatly within Canada’s proudly multicultural identity.
Machado is a winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award—arguably the highest honour in children’s literature. The award is presented in recognition of the excellence of an author or illustrator’s body of work. Machado’s honour was well deserved. She is the author of over 100 books. Like this one, many of them have been translated into different languages and published around the world. The original text for What a Party! was published in 1999, and the English translation was completed by Elisa Amado.
In What a Party!, a distracted mother gives her young son the opportunity to invite people to join him to celebrate his birthday. “Invite anyone you’d like,” the mother says. Before long, the whole neighbourhood is gathered together in the boy’s backyard for a food-laden celebration of togetherness. Each successive guest brings with him or her a selected item of food. It is a nice story, but it seems to me to be missing an important piece. I am not convinced the plot contains enough drama or tension to make the book interesting.
The promotional material from the publisher, Groundwood Books, says that when one invites anyone and everyone, “you might soon be having the craziest party ever.” What I find this admirable book to be missing are those “crazy” elements that would have made it far more engaging. Oddly, the text has the protagonist suggesting that the party has turned out in a manner that was not positive, but I fail to see that. It seems to me that everything turns out really well and, as such, I see no need for the warnings with which the book begins… “Careful, be very careful!” It is possible that some of the drama or tension of the original text was lost in translation, but I see no suggestion in the English text or the illustrations to suggest this party was something to be avoided.
The illustrations were constructed using acrylics and oil pastel. The cool colour palette primarily employs blues and greens that reflect the feel of a summer evening after the sun has disappeared behind the horizon. In fact, the illustrations mirror the passive, relaxed party suggested by the text. The cool palette, the generally rounded shapes that dominate the artwork, and the happily smiling faces of the characters all reflect something other than a bothersome, tiresome or unappealing party experience. The inclusion of sharper edges or more vibrant colour in the artwork might work better to depict trouble. Yet, I do not think that was actually the author or illustrator’s intent. Were the French artist Moreau’s illustrations juxtaposed against the text—with one suggesting serenity while the other depicted chaos, I believe this book would work much better for a young Canadian audience.
The diverse characters and their foods and the overall celebration of a sense of diversity are attractive notions that fit well within a Canadian framework. The book contains a wonderful demonstration of togetherness and harmony. Yet, I am not convinced it is a book that young readers or listeners will choose to return to very often.
Recommended with reservations.
Gregory Bryan is a professor of literacy education and children’s literature in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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