Thursday, December 03, 2009
Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. 2007. Copy supplied by publisher, Candlewick.
Young Frances, preparing for a Christmas play, observes a monkey and organ grinder. Where do they go at night, she wonders? "Somewhere," her mother assures her. "Everyone goes somewhere." But Frances suspects this is not so.
I think I have a new favorite illustrator. The illustrations, while in color, remind me of a 1940s movie; the mother, in particular, is right out of Miracle on 34th Street. There are other clues that it's set during or just after World War II: the cars and clothes, of course, but also the patriotic bunting, the framed photo of a man in uniform.
The ending is hopeful, rather than happy. The child invites the man and his monkey to the Christmas play; he comes, and the last two-page spread shows the organ grinder as part of the community. He and the mother are talking, as the monkey plays with the children.
The darkness in the story (the missing father, the organ grinder living on the streets, the family alone) is reinforced by the shades and shadows of the illustrations. This acknowledgement of the darkness in life is often found in DiCamillo books; to appreciate light, you need darkness; finding hope and joy means coming from a place with neither.