Review of the Day: Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher
When they look back through the annals of time and determine how best to remember 2006, I hope that future historians remember this as The Year of the Stolen Shadows. As of this moment in time I have read FOUR, yes, FOUR children’s books that involve the misappropriation of shadows and were published within 4 months of one another. You have your, “Shadow Thieves” by Anne Ursu, your “Peter and the Shadow Thieves” by Dave Barry, “Charlie Bone and the Hidden King” by Jenny Nimmo (which involves a missing shadow from a portrait), and now this. “Jackie and the Shadow Snatcher” is the only book that falls into this rather unique category and is also a picture book. Playing up all kinds of silent movie tropes (to say nothing of radio), it’s an amusing middle ground between picture and comic books. Not the most original book of its kind I’ve ever seen, but nice just the same.
Golly gee willikers! It’s bad enough that poor Jackie somehow managed to loose his lunch pail at school today, but did he have to go and loose his shadow as well? It’s not like it was his fault, after all. He was just walking home from school when some rapscallion absconded with the shadow that was rightfully his. After consulting with Mr. Socrates, “the smartest man alive”, Jackie learns that there’s only one villain foul enough to be behind such a crime. Yes folks, The Shadow Snatcher is back in town and he’s up to his dastardly tricks. Now Jackie is off to face this terrible foe before his shadow is used for purposes strange and dire.
Obviously the comic book format of this book (done in tasteful black and white) is going to be the real lure for any kid that snatches the funny papers from their parents’ newspapers every night. Now according to his bookflap bio, Larry DiFiori has apparently, “illustrated over seventy-five books for young readers, eleven of which he also wrote”. Odd. I’d admittedly never heard of the fellow before, and a search of him on Amazon yielded few results. That may be because DiFiori has worked primarily as a kind of commercial kids book illustrator. I was a little too happy to discover that one of his illustrated books included, “The Radish Day Jubilee (A Fraggle Rock Book Starring Jim Henson's Muppets)”. How awesome is that? I grew up on The Fraggles, so you understand my glee. As far as I can ascertain, this is the biggest publisher DiFiori has worked with and it’s certainly the most original product (shadow stealing tropes aside). DiFiori works in all kinds of interesting tips of the hat to old timey silent movies and figures. The Shadow Stealer himself, on the other hand, is the spitting image of that old radio show hero The Shadow. Odd to make him a villain in this fashion. Hm. From the Hamburgler-type crook outfits (all bowler hats, black and white stripes, and eye-only black masks) to his Keystone Cops with their Mickey Mouse gloves, this book is quite the looker indeed.
Looker it is. Storywise, it has a ways to go. Basically what we have here is a tale about a boy who is sent to face a hoard of comic villains on his own. Sure, they’re silly, but it’s odd to see an adult in a book sending a child off INTO danger with the admonishment, “You’ll think of something. Just be brave”. Um . . . thanks. There are other problems as well. The story is fairly sparse, and that has nothing to do with its comic book format. It seems to be far more interested in chase and action than story and character. Sure it looks like a comic book, but even comic books need to do some good storytelling.
I’m being a little hard on this puppy, aren’t I? Ah well. There’s no denying its rollicking tone and adventurous style. If you’re on the lookout for comic-styled picture books, there are plenty out there to choose from. My personal favorite might be Gregory Rogers’, “The Boy, the Bear, the Baron, and the Bard”. There’s also the mighty original, “Seadogs”, by Lisa Wheeler or “Sparrowboy” by Brian Pinkney. All of these place format just behind story. I have little doubt that DiFiori will be churning out better and better stuff as time goes by. Definitely a must-have for any comic-styled picture book collection. Worth a gander and a glance.