Two children work out a patterning problem in a tale that is more “math”—actually geometry—than “adventure.”
The tale is set in Renaissance Italy and illustrated with sweetly idyllic period scenes done in pale, low-contrast watercolors. The largely incidental plot hands Enzo, inept son of a magician, and his friend Aida, the shoemaker's little sister, a poser: It seems that the town’s 12 princesses need new dancing shoes, and the penny-pinching castle housekeeper orders that they be made from a single piece of leather. The shoemaker Tessel insists it can’t be done—but by disassembling one kind of shoe, trimming the pieces into geometric shapes and rearranging them, the young folk somehow manage a pattern that fits a dozen shoes (of a different kind, but never mind) onto the leather exactly. “I guess we’ll have to call you a grande matematico,” concludes Aida admiringly. The actual template is neither depicted nor described, and the simple repeated pattern imprinted on the leather in O’Neill’s picture bears no obvious relationship to the finished shoes. Instead, in closing notes the author recapitulates her explanation of how tessellations are constructed and invites young viewers to re-examine the illustrations for tile floor patterns and other examples.
Readers will come away with a little more knowledge about tiled patterns, if not shoemaking, but the visual and fictional wrapping does more to obscure the concept than illuminate it. (Picture book. 5-8)