The Further Adventures of Miss Petitfour
The Further Adventures of Miss Petitfour
Quirky, whimsical, capricious, quixotic, blithesome, and imaginative are all words chosen to describe the heroine of this latest children’s story penned by Canadian writer Anne Michaels. In this beginning chapter book, the intrepid Miss Petitfour and her cats set out once again on five new adventures. To explain more exactly, the adventures are not adventurous in the true thrilling sense of the word, or even plausible in the sense that they might really have happened, but are more rambling, digressive, and imaginative in their own uniquely charming and gently delivered fashion.
If you haven’t already meet Miss Petitfour in her first foray, The Adventures of Miss Petitfour, imagine a Mary Poppinisque character who lives in quaint little village with a decidedly English flavour (as implied by the mention of a High Street, village green, hedgerows, and mothers pushing perambulators). Using one of her many large tablecloths as a maneuverable sail, and joined by her whiskered menagerie of 16 cats (who, after all, must certainly come along to partake of her magical outings), Miss Petitfour sets off on to join a parade, watch the sporting races, and return a stowaway baby.
This entire book is an encompassing dabble into what Michaels coins as “word flippery” where the author plays around with language quite outrageously throughout the pages. Each chapter is festooned with challenging words (sometimes highlighted in colour) which are well beyond the comprehension of most young readers but are explained either in context or through a provided definition. The steady reliance of compounded sentence structure throughout the text (which you may have already noticed has already infiltrated this review) and lighthearted use of punctuation, results in phrases, ideas, and thoughts being chained together with the creative use of brackets, semi-colons, and commas. The storylines sometimes introduce fourth wall asides in which some of the playful features of the English language are explained, namely: homophones, rhymes, compounds words, and anagrams. Information about Greek astronomer Andronicus, the Beaufort Scale, confetti manufacture, olive agriculture, palindromes, plus the irascible hyphenated complexity of English surnames are also interjected as loosely related asides.
Michaels is an award-winning Canadian poet (The Weight of Oranges 1986; Miner’s Pond, 1991, and Skin Diver, 1999) and author who lives in Toronto. She is best known for her highly acclaimed adult novel, Fugitive Pieces (1998), which has won numerous critical awards and was made into a 2007 movie. However, in her second Miss Petitfour book for children, Michael’s delivery of her poetic and quirky writing style, while fun at first, quickly dissolves towards tiresome. In several of the five chapters, the plotlines, which are sparse at best, are totally sidetracked. Some pages read more like shopping lists with the story unlikely to appeal to many young readers. Even an adult would be challenged to enjoy reading this book aloud as a bedtime story.
For weeks, the villagers had all been excitedly looking forward to the race, wondering who would win and take home first prize, a mammoth silver trophy in the shape of a running shoe. Every year, the winner usually alternated between one Biff-led team and another, for the village indeed had two equally fast-moving Biffs: Biff, with his cousin Kuma Canterbury-Chuffleigh-Briskleigh-Burly-Blixen-Escobar-Swift, and Biff, with his brother Wayne Huffington-Pantington-Trottinham-Fleetwood-Chang-Beasley. But a winning Biff team was by no means a sure thing, for there were other speedy biscuits in the village, including the very rapid Slowleigh-Round brothers, Axcel and Newton, and the turbo twins Ferdinand and Nobu Ponderton-Waitabitte-Strideworthy-Clipworth, not to mention the sisters Rosie and Tamsin Reilley-Torquist-Tooey-Frothington and the best friend team of Helena Serge-Bonnet-Highleigh-Leapleigh-Pitchwell-Overleigh-Balderson-Blaskett and Amasha Bois-Brioche des Fontana Harridale Quesloe-Brisbane, who was, of course, the daughter of Mrs. Bois-Brioche des Fontana Harridale Quesloe-Brisbane, the very efficient organizer of the village’s annual spring jumble sale, as you may recall.
This children’s book is redeemed through the irresistible full-colour gouache and pencil crayon artwork scattered throughout the pages by talented UK illustrator, teacher, and writer Emma Block. From double-paged spreads to small cameos tucked into a page corner, Block’s delightfully fanciful depictions of Miss Petitfour become the highlight of the book. Her interpretations of the story events and the activities of the large family of cats reflect a charming vintage feel with their limited and subdued colour palette. The illustrations beautifully capture the chaos of confetti parade gone rogue and flamboyant flights off to the next adventure.
While the author selects simple everyday events which would likely attract the younger crowd, such as waking up with a craving for a particular food, the ensuing delivery and numerous diversions and digressions tend to sabotage full enjoyment of the story. The presentation of the book with its endearing village map endpapers, compact size with a book jacket, and charming illustrations surely enhance its appeal. However, this purchase would have to suit a very special young reader with a love of language and all things silly and magical.
Joanie Proske, a retired teacher librarian from Langley, British Columbia, teaches post-secondary coursework and loves to garden, go for long runs, and fit in time to read books whenever she can. Her latest New Year’s resolution is to investigate more nonfiction books, an endeavor that has her designing new garden projects, exploring quilting, and baking lots of new treats for her family.