Thursday, July 18, 2019

Grandpas are magic: B.C.R. Fegan's Don't Drink the Pink

Title: Don't Drink the Pink
Author: B.C.R. Fegan
Illustrator: Lenny Wen


As soon as I opened this book to the first illustration—of an empty inventor’s workshop giving off strong steampunk vibes—I knew it was exactly my kind of children’s picture book.

As I flipped through the next couple pages, my suspicions were confirmed. Early 1900s costumes? An adorable little girl with billowy dark hair? I could eat this book for dessert.

But before I get carried away and start requesting an edition of Little Women illustrated by Lenny Wen, I should get back to, you know, B.C.R. Fegan’s actual story.

Every year on her birthday, Grandpa Gilderberry brings Madeline a box of brightly colored potions. “Happy birthday, Madeline,” he says. “Take a potion, take a brew. Just don’t drink the pink.”

Dutifully, Madeline picks a different color (never pink) every time. And when she does, marvelous things happen.

She breathes fire, turns invisible, runs faster than a train, and creates money with her bare hands. (That last trick wins Grandpa Gilderberry big points with Madeline’s father, I suspect.)

But a month before her 15th birthday, Madeline’s grandpa dies. Heartbroken, she goes to his workshop on her birthday and cries. When she lifts her head, Madeline sees a single pink bottle behind a note that reads: “Happy birthday.”

Clearly, it’s time to drink the pink.

While the story may feel a bit repetitive, it’s wonderfully charming and imaginative. And though after a few pages, the book’s pattern is established, there’s still an element of surprise as we wonder which potion Madeline will choose this time and what will happen when she does.

Of course, below the surface level story is a message about grandfathers and the curious delight they bring their granddaughters. I found myself thinking about my grandpa who passed away a few years ago and how, like Grandpa Gilderberry, he was always surprising and delighting his grandchildren and gifting them with strength, power, and perhaps best of all, memories.

I’ll admit that, while I found the ending beautiful and quite moving, it left me with a few questions. This could be because I’ve watched too much Doctor Who and am taking this simple children’s picture book to complicated places where it doesn’t need to go. (Time loop?)

But whatever my questions, I heartily approve of B.C.R. Fegan’s Don’t Drink the Pink, its whimsical illustrations, and its story about a grandfather with an infinite capacity for giving. Drink the pink, Madeline.

Until tomorrow.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Good people are hard to find: Review of Stone Man and the Trail of Tears

Title: Stone Man: And the Trail of Tears
Author: Charles Suddeth
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 162
Release Date: October 8, 2019

What Goodreads has to say:

After U.S. soldiers attack twelve-year-old Tsatsi’s Cherokee village, his family flees to the Smokey Mountains. Facing storms, flood, and hunger, they’re forced to go where Stone Man, a monstrous giant, is rumored to live. Their journey is a dangerous one. Will Tsatsi find the strength to become a Cherokee warrior? And will they ever find their family again?

What I have to say:

This was such a sweet story. Tsatsi’s love for his family, concern for their safety, and desire to protect them at all costs makes this a book that will hit home for anyone who has a family, which should be just about all of us.

Besides that, it will hit home for anyone who’s ever helped or been helped by someone outside their family. Johnny Garner, a white trapper living alone in the mountains, takes it upon himself to rescue two Cherokee children and get them to safety.

Along the way *SPOILER* he risks arrest, injury, and death, and even gets shot protecting Tsatsi and Sali. Why would a lone white man risk so much to save two Cherokee kids he just met? Because he’s freaking awesome.

But Tsatsi is pretty awesome too. The kid is 12 and could probably teach a wilderness survival course that I would 100% attend. Tsatsi is the main character and narrator, and he has a nice voice and personality. He’s tough because he’s had to grow up fast, but he’s also very much a 12-year-old boy.

He’s interested in the pretty girl who helps shelter and feed the three fugitives (Tsatsi, Johnny, and Sali). And he has a soft spot for his younger siblings. He’s also terrified of monsters and can’t get the legend of the giant cannibal Stone Man out of his head.

I found this story enjoyable, educational, and inspiring. It made me want to learn more about the Trail of Tears (which I’ve read some books about in the past but not recently). It made me want to try Johnnycakes because frankly they sound amazing. It inspired me to reach out to others and help people in need, even if they’re strangers. And the ending made me smile.

By the way, this book is nonstop action. One crisis follows hard on the heels of another. If it’s not soldiers or a gang of renegades, it’s a flash flood, a thunder storm, or a life-threatening fever. The story kept me fully engaged.

I can’t fathom being thrown into the situation of Tsatsi and his family. I can’t imagine waking up to soldiers burning my village and having to run into the wilderness to escape them. Then losing my family in the wild and having to fend for myself and my little sister—knowing that soldiers are still following us and believing that my parents and other siblings are dead.

But for many Cherokee families in the 1800s, that’s just what happened. In fact, Tsatsi and his family are lucky because *SPOILER* they actually manage to escape. Other Cherokees were forced to march 1000 miles to Oklahoma, many dying along the way.

And similar things have happened to countless groups of people through the ages. I don’t know why people continue to be such jerks time and time again, but it’s good to know that while there are plenty of Andrew Jacksons and Adolf Hitlers in the world, there are also people like Johnny Garner. And they’re everywhere.

As Tsatsi reflects: “Good people came in all sorts of shapes and colors. And good people made life worthwhile.”

So do good stories, and this short but heartwarming adventure is one of them.


Until tomorrow.