August 23, 2012

A Good Trade

by Alma Fullerton
Illustrated by Karen Patkau
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 5+
Release October 1, 2012

Alma Fullerton, one of my favourite writers of novels in verse (e.g., Libertad, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008; Burn, Dancing Cat Books, 2010), has applied her formidable craftsmanship to create a text light in word count but powerful in message. The story of A Good Trade features a young Ugandan boy Kato whose daily routine has him waking at dawn to collect the day's water at the local well.  Carrying two jerry cans, Kato skips, races and treks to the borehole where he joins other children in filling the cans.  On his return journey, he glimpses into an aid worker's truck and the routine of Kato's day takes on a new spirit and task.

Kato's story could be a sombre one, considering that for his whole life Uganda has been in the midst of a civil war in which children were abducted and terrorized to fight for the rebel forces. But, while not ignoring the presence of armed soldiers, A Good Trade accepts the unrest and horror as only one aspect of Uganda.  There are also the gardens, hills, trails, fields with cattle, and villages with neighbours and children.  And those who offer help.  Alma Fullerton emphasizes the hope that accompanies that aid and the touching gratitude of a young boy, while smoothing the wrinkles of Kato's life to remain a textured canvas of many threads: some thicker, some brighter, some coarser, others frail.

And Karen Patkau's illustrations are the embodiment of that texture, in mosaics of bold colours and angular shapes, recreating Kato's Uganda as a rich landscape.  While Karen Patkau has illustrated many books (e.g., One Watermelon Seed, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008; Creatures Great and Small, Tundra, 2006) and has had her artwork recognized with awards, nominations and honourable mentions, I believe that the pairing of Alma Fullerton's text with Karen Patkau's art style in A Good Trade is inspired.  It's almost as if Karen Patkau's art was destined to evoke the landscape and story of Uganda.  Her sultry skies alone capably recreate the shimmering heat of an African day. 
Whatever forces, human or supernatural, that brought together these two artists, one of words and the other of graphics, knew exactly what they were doing.  There's gratitude all around here: from Kato, from picture book lovers, from compassionate readers.

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By bringing together Alma Fullerton and Karen Patkau, Pajama Press, which was only established in April 2011, continues to impress me with the quality of the titles it publishes. I'm starting to feel like a groupie, promoting great book after great book like True Blue by Deborah Ellis; Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan's Rescue from War by Marsha Skrypuch; and Don't Laugh at Giraffe by Rebecca Bender.  The only one I've missed reading is No Shelter Here: Making the World a Kinder Place for Dogs by Rob Laidlaw and that's only because I'm too much of a wuss about animal non-fiction.  Continue to look for reviews of Pajama Press' books here at CanLit for LittleCanadians and at your bookstore.

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