________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 9. . . .December 19, 2008


The Promise.

Kathleen Helen Strom. Illustrated by Donna Assié.
Flin Flon, MB: Lighthouse Publications (397 Kingsway Blvd., MBR8A 0L6), 2007.
32 pp, pbk., $12.00.
ISBN 978-0-9735075-9-1.

Preschool-grade 1 / Ages 4-6.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

** /4




Quack Quack Quack

Mother mallard said
To eight little ducklings
Resting on the shore
Promise me
Be good and stay together
Like we have done before.

     The Promise begins and ends with a promise. In the first instance (as shown in the excerpt), it is mother mallard who is asking her brood of eight ducklings to stay together while she flies off, and at the book's conclusion she promises that, when autumn comes:

We'll fly away
Far, Far away
Into the Autumn sun

     internal artInitially, the ducklings are concerned because it seems their mother has never left them entirely alone before, but soon fatigue overcomes them and they huddle together while falling asleep. When they awaken, some time has elapsed, and their concern of abandonment reemerges. However, while keeping in mind the promise they made their mother, the octet go in search of food. When the west wind warns them that your mother is coming home, they scurry ashore. Upon mother's returns, she praises them for keeping their promise, and then she makes the book's closing promise.

     The bond between a parent and child, whether human or anthropomorphized animals, is a staple of literature for young children, and it is quite difficult to come up with a new take on this oft-used theme. Consequently, Strom does not break any new ground. Like many novice writers for the young, Strom uses poetry, a literary form that presents the writer with the challenge of telling a story while maintaining the poetry's rhythm and rhyme scheme, usually at some cost to both the story and the poetry.

     One device that Strom uses is that of introducing each pair of facing pages (with the exception of the last pairing) with the repetition of a sound (see excerpt above). While young listeners will pick up on this sound pattern and will likely join in during repeated listenings/readings, Strom is not entirely consistent. Though words like quack, peep, flap, blink, splash, flip, bubble, ripple, whish and even kiss (a wonderfully descriptive word for waves gently lapping at a shore) three others, tick, clap and quick just don't work. Before someone protests that tick and clap are sounds, their use doesn't fit the context. Nature has its own units of time, and the ticking of humans' clocks is not one of them. Likewise, ducks don't clap, and it requires the insertion of two young children by illustrator Assié to give this word meaning. This juvenile pair only appear twice in the book, and their connection to the storyline remains vague.

     Generally, Strom has treated her ducks in a limited anthropomorphic fashion, restricting them to conversing among themselves while engaging in typical duck behaviours. Consequently, it is jarring when Strom slips and has them chuckling, a most unduck-like activity. Likewise, illustrator Assié portrays the ducks as the creatures of the wild they are, but she, too, slips when she places a face on a talking west wind. An editor also needed to pay more attention to punctuation and the appropriate use of upper case letters.

     Though the book's setting could be almost anywhere that mallards nest, the text's mention of Schist Lake locates the book in Manitoba near the community of Flin Flon. Generally, Assié's illustrations capture the wild northern Manitoba setting with its mixed coniferous and deciduous forests and swamp-like lake shorelines. Her illustration of the leaping northern pike and the hunting eagle is particularly effective as is that of the snuggling duckling pair on the Blink page.

     The Promise could be added to collections needing additional child/parent bonding stories.

Recommended with Reservations.

Dave Jenkinson, who lives in Winnipeg, MB, is CM's editor.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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