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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Caramba and Henry, written and illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay. Groundwood, 2011. $17.95 ages 5 and up

"Henry wouldn't share anything. He squished Caramba's favorite caterpillars. He threw Caramba's cheese omelets out the window. Henry didn't talk. He yelled. Or howled. Or screamed. All the time. Caramba had to wear earplugs."

All that hype about practice makes you a better writer must be true! Marie-Louise Gay proves it with her newest book about Caramba and his baby brother, Henry. She just gets better and better!

I have a 'little' brother; so, I know what I am talking about here. They can be tiresome and quite a bother. Caramba wanted a brother, one of those brothers who would love the things that Caramba loves and do things that Caramba likes to,  collecting caterpillars, cheese omelets, sharing secrets. What Caramba gets is Henry! Henry is nothing like the brother Caramba had imagined for himself.

Henry is obstinate and contrary. Portia, Caramba's best friend, shares some ideas but Caramba is unconvinced that they will work. The final straw comes when Henry takes flight. Why fly rather than swim? Caramba doesn't understand. Now that Henry is mobile, mother leaves the care giving to Caramba when they are outside. He is impossible to tether. A shopping bag doesn't work. Neither does a butterfly net. Caramba is at his wit's end, until he cottons on to tying Henry to a string like a balloon. Henry hates the captivity and soon breaks free.

What is a big brother to do? He and Portia search high and low, through an ever darkening sky. They take to the pond on a raft and are off in search of a little lost brother. It's impossible to see him. Thankfully, Henry has had a lot of practice screaming and it is that voice that sets them off in the right direction. With love and patient guidance Caramba coaxes Henry from the tall tree and offers calm in response to panic. It is no surprise that Henry utters his first word at the end of this terrifying adventure...."Car-r-r-amba."

The exceptional storytelling ability of Marie-Louise Gay is evident on every single page. The little scenes, the thoughtful word choice and the matchless mix of watercolor, pencil, pastel and acrylic paints are endearing and filled with the charm we have come to expect from her. Each illustration offers new delight - the ever-changing perspective, the expressive characters, the play of light and shadow - all add to the appeal of this wonderful new book by a beloved artist. Thank you, Marie-Louise!

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