April 08, 2013

Oy Feh So?

by Cary Fagan
Illustrated by Gary Clement
Groundwood Books
40 pp.
Ages 4-7

Our families can be the fodder of so much humour.  Obviously Cary Fagan's family has provided him with a wealth of laughter if his numerous children's books are any indication.  From The Fortress of Kasper Snit (Tundra, 2004) and its 2 sequels, to My New Shirt (Tundra, 2007) and Jacob Two-Two on the High Seas (Tundra, 2009), Cary Fagan capably finds the comedic in relationships, familial and otherwise.

In Oy Feh So?, the arrival of Uncle Sam's old Lincoln marks the beginning of the ritualistic Sunday visit from Aunt Essy, Aunt Chanah and Uncle Sam.  As routine as their visits are, so too are their habitual use of interjections or exclamations before commenting on everything and anything.  Aunt Essy of the "Oy" always seems exasperated.  Aunt Chanah is the champion of "Feh", ever contemptuous.  And Uncle Sam's indifference is clear from his favourite interjection, "So?"  

Anticipating no deviation from their relatives' same-speak ("Do you think they'll say something different today?" my sister asked.  "Not a chance," my brother answered.), the three children in the household hatch a plan of multiple role-plays to flabbergast some new vocabulary out of their aunts and uncle.  But, it's not until the kids go overboard and shamelessly mimic their three relatives that Aunt Essy, Aunt Chanah and Uncle Sam discover their own farcical natures and begin to speak freely and uncharacteristically.

Gary Clement's ink-and-watercolour illustrations of Aunts Essy and Chanah and Uncle Sam bring out the boring attributes of all us older relatives: less than trendy eyeglasses, an unwelcome paunch, out-moded hairstyles, double chins and clothing lacking in style.  The details in the faces and hair and attire may be different, but they are the relatives we were all encouraged (forced?) to embrace and chat up because they were family.  And, if we were lucky, as the three children in Oy Feh So? are, we saw beyond the façade of their drudgery and stale vocabulary and glimpsed the fun-loving children they once were and now were willing to share with us.  This collaboration between Cary Fagan and Gary Clement is priceless in allowing us to see ourselves in the story, and hopefully recognize that it's up to us to help change those Sunday visits from doom to delight.  Oy!

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