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MADLENKA by Peter Sís


by Peter Sís & illustrated by Peter Sís

Age Range: 3 - 6

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2000
ISBN: 0-374-39969-7
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Madlenka is losing her tooth and sets out to make her happy announcement to everyone in her multiethnic New York City neighborhood. This brief story captures all of Sís’s most distinguished qualities of dreamlike mystery while remaining accessible to younger children. The book is meticulously designed, from the endpapers, which show New York as a flyspeck on planet Earth and zoom in on Madlenka’s city, neighborhood, block, house; to the book’s square shape that replicates Madlenka’s block; to the die cuts through which readers view Madlenka on the one hand and a distant culture on the other. As she visits each shop on her block, Madlenka shares her news with a shopkeeper from another country who literally offers a visual window on his culture (France, India, Italy, Latin America, Africa, Asia). Ingenious page design often demands that the reader rotate the page, just as Madlenka herself, always visible safely at the center, circumscribes the block and by extension the globe. While cultural appreciation and inclusiveness are Sís’s clear intent, some concerns must be noted. Madlenka’s culturally diverse neighbors are as overly costumed as collectible “dolls-of-all-nations.” Doubtless Mr. Singh (India) does wear a turban, but he may not wear pointy-toed shoes. The exotic costumes may also prove misleading to suburban children who also live with people of many cultures, but who likely see more assimilation in styles of dress. The exquisite double-page spreads invite close inspection, but prove unequal in content and specificity: the European cultures are rich in historic and cultural minutiae, while Africa and Latin America reveal a paucity of detail. Sadly, comparison is unavoidable. There is a lamentable lack of differentiation in world regions. Thus Asia, Latin America, and Africa are treated as one country visually, which will be deceiving to young readers. Undeniably clever, well-intentioned, and beautiful, but flawed. (Picture book. 3-6)