July 10, 2017

Fatima and the Clementine Thieves

Written by Mireille Messier
Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Red Deer Press
32 pp.
Ages 5-8
July 2017

In 2012, Fatima et les voleurs de clémentines was published by Éditions de la Bagnole and it promptly won the 2012 Prix jeunesse de l’Alliance française and was nominated for the 2013 Forest of Reading Tamarac Express award.  Now, five years later, English readers can share in this heartwarming story based on an African proverb that says “When spider webs unite, they can stop elephants.”  It’s a story of a defeat by the small and insignificant of the large and strong and ominous.  It’s a Moroccan spider vs elephant tale and the winners are Fatima and her grandfather and their clementine orchard.
From Fatima and the Clementine Thieves 
by Mireille Messier 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard
Fatima helps her grandfather in their clementine orchard.  They are looking forward to having enough to take to market so that they can buy fish and pistachios and olives and perhaps a treat of almond paste.  And with her friends, the spiders, keeping the bugs from the trees–she treats them to clementines peeled into flower shapes as a thank-you– Fatima's anticipation is great.

From Fatima and the Clementine Thieves 
by Mireille Messier 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard 
But the young girl and her grandfather awake to broken branches, trampled fruit and even uprooted trees. A nighttime vigil reveals a mother and two baby elephants are the culprits, surprising Fatima's grandfather who declares elephants have not been seen in the area for centuries.  Though they try to scare the animals off with noise and water and even throwing pistachios at them, the elephants continue to do their damage.

Grandfather in his traditional djellaba and turban and belgha slippers seeks out the advice of others in the market, finally relenting to the purchase of a rifle.  But Fatima is sure there has to be a better way to save their clementines.

Fatima enlists the help of her seemingly insignificant spiders–she actually asks them and they agree–to spin a thick wall of spider webs, thwarting the elephants whose way is blocked.
"You have saved the orchard!"
"AND we saved the elephants," adds Fatima, proudly.
"You may be small, but what you have done is very big."
(pg. 29)
The message in Mireille Messier's text is very clear: even the smallest, most insignificant creature can achieve astounding success when united in purpose and working with determination.  By setting the story in a land of clementines and elephants, she has honoured a very African saying and acknowledged the moral without leaving the continent from which it arises.  Fatima and the Clementine Thieves celebrates a culture of which many Canadian children will be unfamiliar but about which they will appreciate learning, especially since they are undoubtedly familiar with daunting tasks.  Learning a new math skill or studying for a test or dealing with family dramas may not be the same as an elephant destroying your clementine orchard but they are all predicaments or stresses one must handle.  As such, children will be able to empathize with the plight of Gabrielle Grimard's Fatima and Grandfather who appear kindly and sympathetic because of her soft artwork that always emotes beyond the page. (Previous reviews of her artwork include When I Was EightNot My Girl, and The Fabulous World of Mr. Fred.)

Fatima and the Clementine Thieves is a feel-good story about problem-solving and triumph and purposeful work. Thank you to Mireille Messier and Gabrielle Grimard for giving all readers a wonderful back story for every clementine we might enjoy in future and for a new illustrated lesson on achieving success with little but determination and a united front.
From Fatima and the Clementine Thieves 
by Mireille Messier 
illus. by Gabrielle Grimard

Author Mireille Messier launches Fatima and the Clementine Thieves this Saturday in Toronto.  This free event will take place at the Indigo at Yonge and Eglinton. Details are listed here.

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