Monday, August 1, 2011


Written by Don Gillmor

Illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay

(Stoddart Kids, 2000)

I call this story “Moonstruck, Junior” but the original title is pretty catchy itself. In fact, when I discovered this book a decade ago, the words on the spine proved irresistible. How could I not be intrigued? The title seemed to capture every young boy’s thoughts about princesses who insisted on being kissed. (Yeah, let ‘em sleep.)

The first two sentences of Gillmor’s text are perfect: “Austin Grouper had a brown dog named Fresco, a best friend named Sternberg, and a red bicycle. His life was full.” Stop right there. Copy that on a Post-it and slap it on your bathroom mirror. Ah, the beauty of simplicity!

But the story does go on. Lo and behold, Austin’s world is rocked when a family with a girl his age moves in next door. Amy. Austin’s response: “Yuck.” No exclamation mark even. Why bother?

Of course, Austin’s mom does the mother thing, insisting he go over to greet the new neighbour. He forgoes hello and immediately dazzles with his dinosaur knowledge. She is not impressed. As a result, neither is he.

Apparently Austin cannot help himself. He continues to try to get Amy’s attention. It’s futile. At one point, she says the unthinkable: “Dinosaurs had very small brains.”


For her birthday, Austin goes for broke. His gift involves the moon and “a very, very long rope.” Let’s leave it at that. For me, the tale goes a little astray (as does Austin) at this point, but it ends most appropriately with Austin and Amy reaching an understanding.

Gillmor’s tale captures Austin’s simultaneous feelings of repulsion and attraction to the new neighbor. Why is she so...different? The author adds whimsical details, worthy of smiles if not chuckles. On repeated reads, children will focus more on different parts of the story. The details will pop.

As always Gay (author-illustrator of the Stella and Sam series) enhances the story with her quirky, endearing illustrations which jump out from soft backgrounds of blue, purple and green. For starters, in her drawings, kids’ hair seems to have its own personality. As well, I am a sucker for picture books with the same animals popping up in almost every scene. Here it is Fresco the dog. If only the pooch could remind the seemingly smitten Austin that life was indeed full enough, pre-Amy!

Alas, love looms.

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