Monday, April 27

For You and No One Else

by Edward van de Vendel
illustrated by Martijn van der Linden
Lemniscaat / Boyds Mills 2009

When I first entered the world of children's publishing I heard the term "European" tossed around in reference to some picture books. I had never heard the term before, never even thought about picture books as something that could be continentally differentiated, and yet from the moment I heard the term I knew exactly what it meant.

And here we have an example.

Buck the deer (or perhaps a reindeer) is out terrorizing birds in a forest one day when he stumbles on a seven leaf clover. Immediately he shares his new-found marvel with his friend Sparkleheart. Sparkle is impressed, so much so that he leads Buck to a field full of seven leaf clovers. Then, taking a cue from his friend, Sparkle goes around presenting every doe he can find with a special clover, for them and no one else. Depressed that his special gift for his friend was not special, and that his gift of friendship was used as a ploy to gain the affection of others, Buck trundles off and collapses in a fit of depression. That is when he sees, right in front of him, a true marvel: a clover with twelve leaves. This inspires Buck to give Sparkle the clover as a gift, shouting "YES! YES! YES! FOR YOU AND NO ONE ELSE!"

The end.

Okay, so maybe when I'm lukewarm to a book I can be less than charitable, but the plot summary isn't really that off the mark. Even accounting for differences in cultures and nuances in translation this is the story conveyed in the illustrations. This leaves me with the ultimate take-away question: what is the real story here? Is it that your friends will betray your affections callously, but you should continue to love them nonetheless? The jacket flap is a little more kind:

What do you do when you find a seven-leaf clover? Well, you give it to your best friend, of course.

Sometimes, though, best friends forget to be thoughtful in return.

Is that really it? Is it really a case of Sparkelheart being forgetful, or are we really dealing with a relationship between a giving and a taking personality? Sparkle doesn't merely give away Buck's gift, he uses Buck's action as a basis for going around trying to dupe all the females of the woods. Sparkle is an opportunist, a player, a user, and though it is admirable that Buck is going to stick with his friend there isn't any sense that Buck has changed at all in the end.

This is The Giving Tree problem in a sense, yes? Buck is like the tree in that it give unconditionally and Sparkleheart (asinine name, I must finally say) is the boy who takes and takes and gives nothing in return.

The art... in this small format picture book we have some very simple black and white scratchboard-type illustrations that are both playful and odd. The deer seem to have human legs in pants, with bodies of fabric that indicate gender (boys are square and girls are dress-shaped). It's the angularity of the images that make this feel less "American kid friendly" to me - it just doesn't have the requisite "cute" that the market tends to demand. Mind you, this isn't necessarily a bad thing to me, but it does give the book a bit of it's distance; it trades away its warmth for its uniqueness.

Technically, it's not a bad book, it just doesn't appeal. And I doubt it will be remembered - much less treasured - after its initial reading.

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