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Robert McConnell
Illustrated by Christine Lott; translated by Marie-Andree Clermont

Toronto, Napoleon Publishing, 1990. 48pp, paper, $19.95, ISBN 0-929141-06-7
Distributed by Diffusion du Livre Mirabel, 8925 Boul. St. Laurent, Montreal, Que. H2N1M5
Available in English as The Strawberry Jam. CIP

Grades 3 to 6/Ages 8 to 11
Reviewed by Judy Coulman.

Volume 19 Number 5
1991 October

Fraises en deconfiture seems smoother and sweeter in French! However, Strawberry Jam does have the characters in a jam... en deconfiture.

"La reine reste la tele dans la main et sa terre Fraiselande tombait en perdi­tion." Prince Berry, the queen's nephew, "aux instincts si feroces," has devised a plan to gain the throne and rule la planete Fraise. He has joined in league with Tarte "au physique de gnome et aux idees retorses." With an army of horrible insect-like creatures they have plundered the land. "Les Bouffards continuaient par toute la region a devaster les champs... comme une onde, a grande bruit." They always end their nights of destruction by gorging on cream. Finally, because the crop of strawberries has been destroyed and the planet ruined, Fraisina (desolee) has to concede defeat and signs over her kingdom to Berry.

On the evening before the capitula­tion — "douze coups a l'horloge annoncerent minuit" — she is visited by Fragola, her stepmother who has been far away seeking solace and mourning the king's death. This section of the plot does seem cumbersome; the introduc­tion of the heroine is contrived. Possibly the characterization of Fraisina should have developed past a weak, simpering, do-nothing queen. One wonders how she met other challenges during her reign.

However, Fragola devises a plan and although the loyal subjects of Fraiselande consider that both Fragola and Fraisina "perdaient les pedales," they agree to fill the moat with cream, to complete the first stage of her strategy. The second stage of the plan works with great clarity and ease in the narrative.

The two villains are thrown into the moat when Fragola cuts the rope to the drawbridge. With the continued thrashing of these two non-swimmers, the cream becomes whipped! The hungry hordes of Bouffards love cream, but discover they adore whipped cream. Instead of helping their leaders, they devour the cream. This leads naturally to the final stage of the scheme: les fraises! "Fraise-a-tout! comme uncride bataille," Fragola and the citizens pour strawberries in the cream from the ramparts. The attention of the Bouffards has been gained and the last part of the plan goes into effect. Fragola encourages les petits Bouffards to accept a life of good deeds, not evil in exchange for strawberries and "de la creme fouettee."

This book will fill several voids in a French Immersion collection: a medieval setting, a sense of fantasy and adven­ture, a catalyst for drama and creativity. It is also refreshing to experience a female hero and one of such intellect, wisdom and age! The text is in the poetry style favoured by McConnell, and could provide a challenge for students. Possibly this book would be used more successfully as a classroom/ bibliotheque group experience in first reading. The illustrations by Christine Lott, in pungent colour, compliment the text, and serve to encourage the reader to savour this delightful bonbon!

A mon avis, Fraises en deconfiture est a mon gout et, aussi, probablement, au votre.

Judy Coulman, Guelph, Ont.
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