Monday, December 20, 2010

Snook Alone by Marilyn Nelson and Timothy Basil Ering

Timothy Basil Ering (Finn Throws a Fit) has painted lovely illustrations for this long, free verse picture book about a dog who is separated from his master, a solitary monk named Abba Jacob. The setting is the tropical Mascarene islands, off the southeast coast of Africa. Snook, an adorable rat terrier, must survive alone on the tiny island of Avocaire while waiting for Abba Jacob to return.

I enjoyed Marilyn Nelson's poetic descriptions of the astounding variety of wildlife on Avocaire, especially the seabirds: "fluffy chicks / sitting dumbfounded, / like a field of white teddy bears." The fairy terns "with little fishes dangling from their beaks / like handlebar mustaches." Too often, however, the prose seemed leaden when I wanted it to sing.

The story has four parts, or chapter breaks, indicated with the starting letter decorated something like those in an ancient illustrated manuscript. The third chapter, however, seems to be broken in the wrong place, two page-spreads too late.

In picture books, the illustrations should not contradict the prose unless it is for a special effect. I didn't like that the door to the chapel is open in the image of Abba Jacob praying, when in the text he closed the door. Abba Jacob is wearing a swathed tunic in all of the images, giving a timeless feel to his existence, but the text tells us that he wears a shirt and trousers, pulling a tunic over them when he goes to town. I love the illustrations so much that I resent Nelson's prose for contradicting them, although I recognize that this is unreasonable on my part, since the text was most likely created first. I would like to know more about the collaboration between this author and artist, because I'm puzzled by these flaws.

Preschool to Grade 3.

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