Saturday, 2 April 2011

review: The Day The Animals Came

by Frances Ward Weller, illustrated by Loren Long
Philomel Books, 2003
historical picture book

Ria never wanted to move to New York City. Her parents always work now, and she's always being babysat by Mrs. Blum, her Yiddish neighbour. On St. Francis Day, however, Mrs. B's got a surprise for Ria: animals are being blessed at the church! And Ria is glad to see them--but she doesn't have an animal of her own. How can she join in on this special day?
The cover:

This was a good choice of illustration to put on the cover (picture book covers are most often one of the interior illustrations). The procession of people with animals both matches the title and sets up the right expectations for the story.

The book:

The beginning is a little top-heavy with narration, but Ria's thoughts are strikingly elegant even as they suit her age: "Mrs. B could make her [Ria] smile, but she couldn't stretch the sky... or dim the city lights that hid the stars." Details (a grumpy cat named Tiger, a dog as big as a pony) sharpen the setting and emphasize the importance of animals. Ria's lively (and literal) pursuit of an animal to bring into the church is accentuated with cheerful illustrations in earth tones. Loren Long often illustrates from a unique perspective (under the bed, a bird's-eye view, etc.).

The educational message is suitably kept light (although an author's note is included). Religion does not feel forced--the story is focused on belonging, of being swept up in this larger sense of being. Ria's family problems are hardly touched upon after the beginning; the ending only talks about Ria being at home in a somewhat heavy-handed way. It's a slow start, but a sweet story.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5