Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Zebra Wall by Kevin Henkes

I picked up The Zebra Wall because I adore Kevin Henkes. You might like to read my reviews of Junonia and The Year of Billy Miller.

The Zebra Wall has so much to recommend it but sadly it also has one low point.  I am going to explain this because this issue does worry me.  Two of the main adult characters in this book are smokers. This book was written in 1988 and I am sure we were aware at that time about the dangers of smoking.

In this story we follow the emotional journey of Adine the oldest girl in a family of five girls.  Baby number six is about to arrive and everyone is sure this baby will be another little girl.  The family have lovely rituals to celebrate a birth - they write lists of suggested names, the nursery walls are painted with a special mural and everyone celebrates with  delicious home cooked treats.  In some ways the Vorlob family feel little like the Silks.  Each child is given a name following the alphabet - Adine, Bernice, Carla, Dot and Effie. The new baby will have a name beginning with the letter F (Adine has set her heart on Florinda) and the mural is filled with thing starting with F just as for Adine when it was filled with things that started with A.

I imagine you have guessed the new baby is not a little girl.  He arrives quite early and is tiny.  Nothing is ready and so Mrs Vorlob says for now they will call him Baby.  To complicate matters Aunt Irene has moved into the house to help with the new baby.  Adine finds life with her eccentric, cat obsessed and seemingly thoughtless aunt very difficult and worse news of all is that Irene will name the baby.

There is some very special writing in this book that just made me sigh with happiness.  Here is an example. When mum and dad are at the hospital Adine cannot sleep (she is sharing her room with Aunt Irene) so she moves into their room.

"The room was empty, the bed made.  Adine pulled the spread and the blankets back and climbed under them, sinking into the bed like syrup.  She loved the spread on her parents' bed.  It was the color of tea with milk, patterned with bursting, deep gold chrysanthemums."

I wonder did Kevin Henkes write his famous book Chrysanthemum before or after The Zebra Wall? Actually he did!  Chrysanthemum the picture book was published in 1991.

Back to the issue of smoking.  During her pregnancy Mrs Vorlob does not smoke.  Instead she holds onto carrot sticks.  Sadly the moment she arrives home from hospital she takes up smoking again.  Adine is disgusted :

"Mrs Vorlob reached into the pocket of her peppermint-striped jumper and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and her lighter. Adine frowned.  She had hoped her mother wouldn't take up smoking again.  Pretend-smoking vegetables may have looked silly but at least they didn't stink and they were good for you.  TV commercials about cancer frightened Adine."

If you enjoy The Zebra Wall you might also enjoy Lavender by Karen Hesse and also The naming of Tishkin Silk by Glenda Millard.

No comments: