Jacob's Best Sisters.
Teddy Jam. Illustrated by Joanne Fitzgerald.
Preschool - grade 1 / Ages 3 - 6.
Just as he was falling asleep, the dolls landed on his chest. "We're lonely!!!!" they cried. "Tell us a story!!!!"
"All right," Jacob said. "Once upon a time there was little boy who wanted a log cabin. He was a very lonely little boy, and when he got the log cabin he was going to pretend he lived there with a friend and they were pioneers."
"We have a log cabin!!!!" the dolls squeaked. "Come live with us!!!!"
"Thank you", Jacob said.
"What are you doing now?", called his mother.
"Telling myself a story," Jacob said.
"Good-night!" his mother called." (27-28)
"Good-night," Jacob said.
"Good-night!!!!" whispered four little voices.
Winners of the Governor General's Award in 1991 for Dr Kiss Says Yes, author Teddy Jam and illustrator Joanne Fitzgerald have teamed together again to create this story in which Jacob wins a miniature model of a pioneer cabin by answering a skill-testing question from a box of Chocky Chocko GoodGrain Nutflakes: "What color was John A. Macdonald's black hat?" (2). No brainteaser there as Jacob remarks: "Anyone who couldn't answer that question didn't deserve to win a prize." (3) Fitzgerald's remark, "The illustrator thanks the Ontario Agricultural Museum for its wonderful preservation of our rural architectural heritage", suggests the cabin has been rendered with historical accuracy. Fascinated by the pioneers whom he admires for their ruggedness, Jacob is delighted with his log cabin. However, his prize is also magical, for the four little dolls who sleep in the cabin's loft come to life just as Jacob is about to go to sleep. They are very playful little girls who wreak havoc before going back to their beds. The next morning Jacob resolves to send away for another prize: a sailing ship with four sailors on deck.
The initial story line is appealing - I clearly remember the seriousness with which I saved up my Popsicle Pete coupons until I had enough to buy some of the exciting prizes: a miniature flashlight, a small toy. However, the focus of this book is not very clear, and the title is no help in that respect: is Jacob primarily concerned with the pioneers and Canadian history or with his little pioneer dolls or with winning prizes from cereal boxes? For that matter, Jacob never refers to the dolls as "sisters," and they certainly are irritatingly whiny creatures. Almost every one of their remarks concludes with three or four exclamation marks: "We're hungry!!!!" they cried. "We want something to eat!!!!" (11) Jacob shows pioneer-like ingenuity when he fashions clothes out of socks for three of the little girls and gives the fourth a fancy dress made from a handkerchief so that she looks like a "pioneer princess going to a barn dance" (no historical accuracy here). He cannot resist teasing them: "You have to take turns," said Jacob. "The pioneers sometimes had to wait ten years for a dress." (18) The author no doubt gives a very accurate picture of the way older brothers see younger sisters, and Fitzgerald has certainly succeeded in conveying the mixture of tenderness and exasperation that Jacob surely must feel toward the little girls. However, I'm not sure that younger sisters will appreciate the humour, although they might be entranced by the Fitzgerald's charming pictures.
Recommended with reservations.
Kathleen Kellett-Betsos teaches French language and Quebec/French Canadian civilisation and literature at Ryerson Polytechnic University.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - JUNE 20, 1997.
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