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Grade 2-6-True to its title, this picture book re-creates an old-time silent movie as it unreels a story in which motion pictures play a key part. From its opening credits to the black-and-white framed scenes that spool across the horizontal glossy, black pages, all of the hallmarks of a pre-talkie are here. A bordered "screen" sets the stage by briefly describing immigration to America, individual frames begin to detail a Swedish family's separate 1909 journeys to "The Promised Land," and occasional short titles ("A friend from the Old Country!") punctuate a rags-to-riches melodrama. A missed connection on the New York docks leads to many trials for Mama and young Gustave, including an encounter with a stock mustachioed thief, but they are dramatically reunited with Papa, thanks to Gustave's appearance in a new silent movie that his father happens to see at a nickelodeon. His princely salary assures that "The new American family" will presumably live happily ever after. Just as in the silents, visuals tell the story. Parallel line shadings make creative use of white space to spotlight action within the rectangular frames, which are variously sized to convey action or pauses. The figures are well delineated, with the heavy brows and expressive eyes familiar from the films. The minimal text captures traditional dramatic phrasing, but for children unfamiliar with the conventions of the medium, the occasional abrupt shifts in time and place that occur without explanation may prove confusing, and the fleshing out of character and plot will be missed. A brief author's note provides some historical context, and the book could be helpful in a beginning study of film history or as an entertaining sidelight to immigration studies in addition to individual perusal.
Nancy Palmer, The Little School, Bellevue, WA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
*Starred Review* K-Gr. 3. True to the tender melodrama of the great silent movies, this picture book in black and white tells a happily-ever-after immigrant story from the early twentieth century. Papa sails for America, and then he sends for Mama and Gustave. But they can't find Papa when they arrive, alone in the great city with no English and no money. While begging in the street, they see a friend from the old country, who finds them shelter and a sweatshop job for Mama. But this is American myth, not realism: Gustave becomes a child actor in a movie (So what if he can't speak English? Movies are silent). Papa sees the movie, and the family is united. Clear, beautiful ink-on-clayboard illustrations; white type on thick, glossy black paper; and cinematic lighting effects combine to evoke the historical period as they tell a story about making a movie of the American dream. The soulful, full-page close-ups of the boy alone, wondering, "Was it a mistake to come to America?" will touch children, and the succession of small framed scenes will appeal to comic book fans. Just as strong are the crowd scenes, of the huddled immigrants on the long journey, of the audience watching their story on the screen. Avi and Mordan both cite Chaplin as inspiration, and their book beautifully evokes the melancholy loner in City Lights. Hazel Rochman
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