Review of the Day: Adele and Simon
I’m a bit odd. There is nothing I like more in the entire world than for a picture book to make me feel stupid. I live for the feeling. And, as it happens, it doesn’t occur as often as I should like it to. Enter in Barbara McClintock. The unofficial successor to Kate Greenway, Ms. McClintock’s books are touch and go affairs. One moment she’s penning the unaccountably beautiful, “Dahlia”. Next minute she’s scandalizing Beatrix Potter puritans everywhere with her re-illustration of, “A Tale of Two Bad Mice”. I always want to count on Ms. McClintock, but I never know how a book is going to come off until I have it sitting smack dab in front of me. The fact that, “Adele and Simon” not only fell into the Good McClintock bin but went above and beyond the call of duty by being smart, beautiful, ludicrously well-detailed, and other terms of high praise... well it’s enough to make a librarian like myself weep with joy. For pure unvarnished and unapologetic Francophilia alongside references to art, culture, and a smattering of “Where’s Waldo”, McClintok’s newest is an enjoyable book that deserves as much love as I can heap upon it.
At the turn of the twentieth century a girl named Adele picks up her little brother, Simon, from school. Simon’s a pleasant kid, but he has an odd tendency to lose his things. Right from the start Adele says to him, “Simon, please try not to lose anything today”. Simon replies honestly but with more than a hint of foreshadowing, “I’ll try”. Together, the two walk about Paris and each place they go Simon loses something new. At first it’s just small things. The cat picture he made in school goes missing during a street market. His scarf goes awry in the natural history museum. As the kids continue, however, Simon’s losses get bigger. His crayons are somewhere in the Louvre. His knapsack turns up missing in The Maison Cador. His sweater in The Cour de Rohan. By the time the two kids get home Simon just has the clothes on his back. However, there is soon a knock on the door and a long line of people are standing there with ALL of Simon’s lost things! And that evening a happy sleepy Simon asks if Adele will pick him up again from school. She will. She always does.
The actual tone of the book was definitely a familiar one. I think we’ve all read books in which an older impatient female sibling must look after a younger carefree male one. The best example of this might well be the Max and Ruby books by Rosemary Wells. As a person can see by the cover of this book, though, it’s clear who the uptight child is and which one has the jolly devil-may-care attitude. McClintock’s story is a light-hearted lovely look at the ways siblings love and annoy one another. The fact that her pictures have the tendency to pop the average reader's eyes out of their sockets is just a bonus, really.
By the way, are you going to Paris anytime soon? Taking the kids? Want them to show some mild interest in where you’re headed? Take this book. I’m serious. Look at the freakin’ endpapers, people! What you’ll find there is a map of Paris. Then, skillfully placed over the map, are a series of blue lines and numbers indicating where Simon lost his various accoutrements. Aside from the fact that these two kids apparently make record breaking time on just their two l’il feet, this map may do wonders for a family outing abroad. Best of all, it’s accurate to the time period, having come from a 1907 edition of, “Paris and Environs” by Karl Baedeker.
Now remember what I said earlier about enjoying the sensation of feeling stupid in the face of picture book greatness? Well let’s just flip to the back of this book to show you what I mean. The last two pages of, “Adele and Simon” show all areas where Adele and Simon lost items. By a thumbnail of each scene, McClintock has supplied copious information. Information, mind you, that refers not only to what is being shown but also the small references and historical figures the artist has managed to sneak into her pictures. For example, in the scene that takes place in The Musee du Louvre, the people who try to help Simon find his crayons include (deep breath now), “Edouard Vuillard, Odilon Redon, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt”. Sometimes McClintok will mention her references, and sometimes she won’t. I felt as pleased as punch to discover that in The Jardin des Plantes you can see Ludwig Bemelmans’s famous little girls walking in two straight lines. Who can say how many other in-jokes, references, and asides might be lurking in these wonderfully detailed illustrations? Not I.
Kids reading this book will delight in finding each of Simon’s lost belongings from picture to picture. If the “I Spy” books have taught us anything, it’s that even the most ADD-prone of children will sit for long swaths of time when they know there’s a treasure to be located somewhere on a printed page. The fact that this book could charm even the grumpiest of preschoolers is reason enough for purchasing it. A beautiful title and a must-read book. McClintock at her amazing astounding best.
On shelves September 5th.