Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Emily and Carlo is the story of a shy, smart young woman and her closest companion. It begins in 1849 in Amherst, Massachusetts, where sad Emily is given a large, black Newfoundland puppy. Emily names the dog Carlo, and with him "by her side, Emily [has] the confidence to explore the world around them." In fact, Emily takes Carlo everywhere and, during the sixteen years she is accompanied by her "shaggy ally," they are only apart for a few months when Emily has to go to the city for health reasons. The time does come, though, when Carlo can no longer be there. Following his death, Emily writes a heartbreakingly short letter:
Would you instruct me now?
As a dog-lover and someone who has been closely accompanied by my own "shaggy ally" of nine years, Romeo, this story deeply resonated with me. The text itself is carefully thought out; Marty Figley has aptly integrated historical research, quotes from Emily Dickinson's own material (indicated by italics), and a bit of creative imagination to construct a memorable read. My enjoyment was only furthered by Catherine Stock's beautiful watercolor illustrations. There is a lovely combination and interplay of closely detailed work and broad, pastel, splashes of color. This book might seem light and whimsical, yet it adds substantive value to an aspect of Emily Dickinson that I was not aware of. This is an excellent early introduction that makes a complex and often mysterious author that much more identifiable for readers.
Monday, November 19, 2012
Young Eddie wakes up one morning in the middle of his neighbor's yard, but the fact that he was sleepwalking is the least of his problems. He's been accused of playing a wild practical joke on his neighbor's prized rooster, who's been caught in a pillowcase with Eddie's cat and suspended up high from the barn! His foster parents don't believe in his innocence, but Eddie is granted a single day to solve this mystery and exonerate himself, or else suffer the consequences of punishment.
The first major appeal is the subject itself: Edgar Allan Poe, or specifically his youth and the mythical origins of his legendary status as the "Master of the Macabre." The basics of Poe's background are all introduced here. Gustafson manages to introduce the adult Poe as a haunted but sympathetic soul, animating the ghosts that swirl around his consciousness and give rise to his epic tales. He then moves into Poe's childhood, and in a stroke of superb creativity, tells us that the father who abandoned him and his siblings as children did leave his troubling legacy with Eddie, in the form of an mischievous imp aptly named "McCobber." McCobber and a friendly Raven become Eddie's two only friends in his youth, and help him solve the immediate puzzle that the book revolves around.
Gustafson's first book, Eddie is written with a distinct precision to highlight the time period these characters live in but remains accessible and enjoyable, with an overarching kind narrative voice that carries the story along. I think Gustafson uses enough historical fact woven with imaginative flair to create this charming mystery and possibly whet a child's appetite to know more about Poe. An observant reader will also pick up on the subtle portrayals of class difference, between wealth and race.
The story itself is enough to captivate a young reader (a true mystery of strange proportions) but the illustrations are what ensnared me. Gustafson's exquisite illustrations are imbued with detail and emotion, capturing the dark undertones of Edgar Allan Poe's life and paranormal proclivity. The use of pencil alone to create these striking black and white drawings allows the shadows to stand out and truly haunt the reader throughout the story. Yet Gustafson makes sure to portray kindness wherever it exists as well, so a young reader should never feel too anxious. Overall, it's a well crafted tale about a logical, mature, and sensitive young protagonist instilled with a generous dose of the mystical imagination.
Reviewed by Alya Hameed