Book Review: Quick and Light Romp in Gooseberry Park Hides a Shadowy Theme

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I first read Cynthia Rylant’s Gooseberry Park as part of my local library’s Nutmeg Book Award group in 2000.  Looking over the list of nominees, I am either amazed that this book left such a lasting impression upon me—or certain that I missed several weeks of the program (both are possible, but the latter actually more likely as I know that Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted is on my to-read and not my read list).

I had of late been itching to reread Gooseberry Park and snatched the first copy that I found on the shelves of my local used bookstore.

Gooseberry Park is a quick story of friendship, the coming together of unlikely friends in acts of heroism against nature and disaster, using manmade comforts to combat the cold and the ice and to find one another again after natural disaster has separated them—and wow, that just got a whole lot deeper and darker than I ever gave the book credit for being.  Generally, a man over nature plot is not one to which I ascribe.

The story is fun and easy (apparently hiding some deeper, darker themes).  Humor peppers the story, often through the animal characters’ fascination with human inventions, primarily through Murray, a bold and scatterbrained bat.

Arthur Howard’s memorable, expressive, and realistically rendered illustrations are much to be praised I think for the book’s memorability.

Fans of Rylant’s Mr. Putter and Tabby series for younger readers will find some familiarity in Gooseberry Park, though Mr. Putter is the protagonist of that series and here Professor Albert is more of a background figure while the animals take a more prominent role.  This, like that, is children’s literature with adult protagonists, a rarer thing among children’s literature, and something I would not expect to work well, except that I have heard young children say how much they enjoy the Mr. Putter and Tabby series and Pixar’s movies, almost all of which I have felt were fantastic and many of which have been major blockbusters, have honored almost exclusively adult protagonists.  Somehow, though, it is easy to forget that Stumpy, Kona, and Murray are adults, though Stumpy’s motherhood is central to the plot; only wise Gwendolyn the hermit crab reads unmistakably like an adult, and she is the senior of the other three main animal characters.

In rereading, I was honestly a bit disappointed with Gooseberry Park, but I had also held it high in my mind and had been eager to reread it.  As I said, it was fun and it was quick, and apparently there were themes that I hadn’t expected to find and didn’t recognize till I sat down to analyze the light read, but I’m also unsure why I remembered it with such fondness unless it was for its illustrations and readability—both of which I have to praise.

***

Rylant, Cynthia.  Gooseberry Park.  New York: Apple-Scholastic, 1998.  First published in 1995.

This review is not endorsed by Cynthia Rylant, Apple Paperbacks, Scholastic, Inc, or the Nutmeg Book Award committee of 2000 or any other year.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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