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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Snickeyfritz, Roawr! Will Delight Little Ones

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Many a memorable children's tale takes place on a rainy afternoon. If it weren't for the characteristically soggy British weather, the Pevensie children in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe may never have stumbled into Narnia. The same might be said of the perky protagonists of Snickeyfritz, a children's book by local author Andrea Skyberg.

Taking pity on his bored grandchildren, Papa Pumpernickel sends them on a treasure hunt around the house. As they conduct their search, the girls' chatter evokes the language of a bygone era, which readers can decipher using the glossary helpfully provided by the author. Given the verbal economy of our text-driven age, it's fun to be reminded of a time when descriptive terms like "pixiedoodle" and "scuttlebuzzers" still prevailed (though now they sound like the quaint conjugations of a Roald Dahl yarn).

Not unlike the old-timey language, the visuals hearken back to a more manually driven, hands-on approach.The story is illustrated with photographs of life-sized papier-mâché figures created by the author. What's more, Skyberg uses her own home as a setting, lending the story an intimate air and also broadening its relevance beyond the main narrative as we spy out artifacts from different cultures, including African masks, carved figurines and antique maps. It's common for the eye to stray while reading this book, tracing the intricate pattern of the fabrics or poring over the family portraits on the wall. Perhaps that's Skyberg's intent-creating a setting that can be read with as much enthusiasm as the story itself.

Skyberg will read and sign copies at Boswell Book Co. on Saturday, June 13, 2 to 4 p.m., where she'll be joined by fellow local children's writer Barbara Joosse, author of the beloved Mama, Do You Love Me? While Snickeyfritz demonstrates how a little imagination can enliven the dreariest day, Joosse's new book, Roawr!, shows how an overabundance of it can make for a fretful night. Once safely tucked in bed, young Liam begins to hear mysterious cracks and snaps, from which he arrives at a deeply troubling conclusion: His mother, so "delicious to forest things," is in danger of being gobbled up. Armed with sticks and strings and "double-cake," he endeavors to save her from the jaws of a hungry bear.

Although the illustrations don't quite match the uncanny undertones of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild ThingsAre, the story does. Liam's resolute bravery in the face of peril, the seamless blending of the real and fantastical, and the almost musical patter of the language shares much in common with that immortal classic.

Saturday's reading will allow audiences an opportunity to meet characters from the books. Skyberg will bring the life-sized papier-mâché model of Papa Pumpernickel featured in the book and Joosse will bring along the real-life Liam, a Shorewood native on whom Roawr!'s wily protagonist is based.

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