Umbrella Party

by Janet Lunn,
ISBN: 088899298X

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Children`s Books
by Margo Beggs

The mark of a good picture-book is that you want to read it aloud. You want to find a child and say, "Would you like me to read you a story?" You look forward to laughing over the illustrations and hearing a child say, "Read it again." That's how I felt about The Umbrella Party.

We know we are in good hands as soon as we see the team behind The Umbrella Party. Janet Lunn's output is small, but she is a writer of immense integrity who understands that good picture-books are published for children, not for the author's gratification. Kady MacDonald Denton is an illustrator steeped in the picture-book tradition who takes her art most seriously. Together they have created a book that contains that bit of magic found in the best of the genre.

The Umbrella Party tells the story of Christie. Like the little girl in Kathy Stinson's Red is Best, she knows what she wants. She wants umbrellas, and only umbrellas, for her birthday. The other children grudgingly comply, but Christie's party, in their opinion, turns quickly dull when there are no new toys to play with. Her mother and grandfather save the day by taking the children to the beach, where, when the weather turns foul, Christie proves that umbrellas really are best.

No, I have not actually read The Umbrella Party to a young child. But, more importantly, I would like to, because when I read it aloud, it makes me sound good: funny and wry and whimsical. Lunn's text lets me use language in surprising and inventive ways.

MacDonald Denton's watercolour illustrations are equally irresistible. I know my young listener would want to count Christie's umbrellas. We would decide which child must be Liam and which Katie. We would laugh at Grandfather, who sleeps through chaos.

The Umbrella Party is not perfect. The text could have been trimmed in parts. The opening sentences lack the crispness of later lines such as this one: "Liam, who was the smallest, brought a paper umbrella no bigger than a kitchen match."

The illustrations reverberate with the energy of small children. You can almost hear their laughter and shouting, feel the air stir as they run by. But at times the work seems a bit slap-dash. While I suspect that the illustrator is simply playing around with different styles, in a couple of cases the more sketchy of her illustrations look unfinished.

The Umbrella Party is not quite a classic. But it is a book, I am sure, that would make me a hit with a child. What more could anyone ask? 

Margo Beggs is a former Books for Young People editor at Quill & Quire and is now studying art history part-time at the University of Toronto. She continues in her quest to find the perfect picture-book.


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