CM . . . .
Volume V Number 13 . . . . February 26, 1999
The Village of a Hundred Smiles was like a populous island in a sea of rolling fields. Everyone was happy with the isolated life. The soil produced all the food they needed, they traded for the few things they couldn't produce and news came to them by word of mouth. The people cheerfully worked the land following the pattern the Earth imposed on them in its year-long journey around the sun. The idea of willingly leaving the Village of a Hundred Smiles was almost unheard-of.The first story in this collection of four is called "The Trip." It explores the "almost unheard-of;" an invitation to travel away from the Village. Grandfather receives a letter which he opens with great ceremony in the presence of the entire village. Written by a teacher of former days, it suggests a visit to the city. Grandfather is initially excited at the prospect of the journey. As the time for his departure nears, however, he becomes filled with misgivings. It is his granddaughter, Little Orchid, who detects his reluctance and gently leads him into a face-saving solution.
In "The Bicycle," a deluge of rain courses through the village, and the subsequent flood brings with it a strange item. Aware that the "beautiful, shiny machine with wheels that turned around" is a treasure, it is carefully stored by Grandfather's Number One Son. When the young scholar recovers his errant bicycle, he generously shares the delight of a ride with the male members of the family, allowing Little Orchid the honour of ringing the bell.
In "The Largest Kite," Little Blossom and her Grandfather find that their plans to build the "brightest and biggest kite in the world," go awry when the wind carries Grandfather and the kite into the sky. In the final story, a rich merchant impulsively orders a succession of delicious foods, only to leave equally impulsively without sampling a single one. An impromptu feast ensues to the delight of all.
Barrie Baker has created a wonderful collection of stories in The Village of a Hundred Smiles. The characters of Grandfather and Little Orchid are engaging and sustain interest as they reappear throughout the book. The problems and conflicts are gentle ones, and the outcomes are satisfying, generating a reflected smile from the reader. These stories work beautifully as bedtime read-aloud tales, with several evenings of pleasure ahead if reader and listener can agree to stop at one tale a night. Stéphane Jorisch, whose illustrations appear in Casse Noisette, the text written by Lucie Papineau, provides wonderful images to complement and enhance the stories. These watercolour illustrations are soft and open-handed, but contain great detail of facial expression and place. They lighten the page with comic detail and affection for these endearing villagers.
Jennifer Johnson works as a public librarian in Ottawa, Ontario.
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