Written and Illustrated by Peter Sis
Published by Farra Strauss Giroux 2000
Suitable for ages 3-7
The story of Madlenka is about an exuberant little girl, who lives in New York City. When she find out her tooth is loose, she immediately grabs her raingear and hits the streets to find everyone she knows to tell them about it. Skipping along, she meets many friends who have settled in New York after emigrating from other places in the world. Mr. Gaston from France, who owns the boulangerie, Mr. Singh from India, who owns the newsagents, Mr. Ciao from Italy, with his ice cream shop, and more. All must be told of the loose tooth! Once everyone has been told, including her best friend Cleopatra, from Egypt, Madlenka returns home late. When her parents inquire where she has been, she realizes that her day’s journey didn’t just take her all around the block, but took her all around the world.
This multicultural book that Peter Sis has created is a dynamic and intriguing book for young readers to explore new cultures. The die cut-out shapes and the spiraling text makes for quite an experience from a reader/viewer’s point of view. As Madlenka visits each person and dreams of their homeland, the readers are flooded with images and words of that culture, sparking interest and discussion. In France, we see the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and delicious French pastries. In Asia, we see lucky dragons, rice and black tea. The greeting “Hello” is also offered in each language, which many children will catch onto rapidly.
Sis uses many different artistic elements to create a multi-faceted piece of art. The first element to be noted is the changes in emphasis between the real world and Madlenka’s imagination. Sis uses much darker and more muddied hues when illustrating the city streets of New York to not only portray the rainy day, but to help accentuate the liveliness and excitement of Madlenka’s mind. Sis also uses contrasts to help the reader follow Madlenka through the city and through her daydreams. In the story, each time Madlenka moves to a different place on the block the store is given a bright color to make it stand out from the black and white image around it. Sis also uses this technique on Madlenka herself. As her imagination drifts off to Germany or Latin America, we can always find her with her bright pink outfit and her yellow umbrella. As part of Madlenka’s monologue, she often explains different aspects of each culture to the reader using words and pictures. Sis created these pictures as if a child drew them, which will appeal to the young readers.
As is so often the case with Sis’ work, children will probably want to pore alone over the detail on each page. While this could be a great springboard to start talking about maybe other nationalities in a child’s class or neighbourhood, it may be appropriate to point out the stereotypical nature of the employment Sis has given each immigrant. So saying, once again this is a book of visual delight and fits well into my world theme.
Another review I wrote about Sis last year that you may enjoy is The Tree of Life.