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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Three by the Sea, written and illustrated by Mini Grey. Knopf, Random House. 2010. $20.99 ages 5 and up

"The dog tended to the garden.
The cat took care of the house-
The mouse looked after the
And they lived happily.
Or so they thought."

Ah, life is good for three friends in their little house by the sea. Each takes care of one aspect of domesticity....not very well, but nevertheless! It may seem humdrum to others as they each attend to their own sphere of excellence but they don't mind. Dog can dig as must as he wants to dig in an old dusty yard where nothing grows. Cat prefers napping to cleaning. Mouse's 'go to' dish is cheese fondue and it is a daily meal. Despite all this, they live companionably until a stranger shows up.

The Stranger (a wily and manipulative Fox) blows ashore and finds his way to their little hut. He comes with the news that they are winners...of a  visit from the WINDS OF CHANGE Trading Company.  Everything is free. He needs a bed as he is extremely tired and takes the only bed  in the house. As his visit continues he has much to say about their lifestyle. He wonders at Dog only planting bones, and gives Mouse some relevant material to read about food and homegrown herbs. He has opinions and gifts for each of the householders, and some suggestions.

With all of the fault-finding by the Stranger comes conflict. Soon, accusations and complaints are flying and the peace and tranquility of the little house vanish. Mouse has had enough of the bickering...and he decides to leave. Cat has a premonition of danger and wanders along the seashore, only to find a package of Mouse's belongings and to hear a plaintive sound from the sea that resembles a mouse squeak. Cat is desperate to save her friend, despite the fact she can't swim. In the nick of time, it's Dog to the rescue! Upon arrival back home, they find the Stranger gone and some seed packets left behind him.

These are great characters, who will hold their audience's attention with their charm and sweet concern for each other. The artwork perfectly matches the story's tone and creates a dramatic setting. Stunning and fresh, the book will be read repeatedly. It gets better with each visit. Friendship can be wrought with small conflicts and is definitely about compromise. Mini Grey makes that very clear, while not hitting us over the head with it.

What do you think? Did the Stranger's visit help the three friends or cause distress?

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