Saturday, May 11, 2019

Review - Captain Rosalie

Captain Rosalie
by Timothée de Fombelle
illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
Date: 2019
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 64
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Timothée de Fombelle and Isabelle Arsenault capture the heart-wrenching cost of war for one small girl in a delicately drawn, expertly told tale.

While her father is at war, five-year-old Rosalie is a captain on her own secret mission. She wears the disguise of a little girl and tracks her progress in a secret notebook. Some evenings, Rosalie's mother reads aloud Father's letters from the front lines, so that Rosalie knows he is thinking of her and looking forward to the end of the war and to finally coming home. But one day a letter comes that her mother doesn't read to her, and Rosalie knows her mission must soon come to an end. Author Timothée de Fombelle reveals the true consequence of war through the experiences of small, determined Rosalie, while acclaimed artist Isabelle Arsenault illustrates Rosalie's story in muted grays marked with soft spots of color -- the orange flame of Rosalie's hair, the pale pink of a scarf, the deep blue ink of her father's letters. All the more captivating for the simplicity with which it is drawn and told, this quiet tale will stay with the reader long after its last page is turned.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This is a bit of a strange picture book. Being quite heavy on the text, it will probably only appeal to older readers, especially given the subject matter. For me, it almost didn't seem like a children's book: from the mature voice of the supposed five-year-old to the disturbing descriptions of life in the trenches, Captain Rosalie seems almost like it was intended for a much older audience.

The story follows five-year-old Rosalie, a young girl who lives in France during the Great War. Her father is off in the trenches, and her mother works in a factory... which leaves Rosalie in the care of the schoolteacher. Being a little too young for school, she sits at the back of the class while she watches and listens. She repeatedly talks about her mission, the nature of which is a mystery until well into the story. Letters arrive from the front, and Rosalie's mother reads them to her. Rosalie doesn't seem much interested, as she doesn't remember her father (it's 1917, so he's likely been away since she was a toddler). But one day a letter in a blue envelope arrives, and it seems to upset her mother. Rosalie makes a plan to find the letter and figure out what it says.

I'm not sure exactly how this book is supposed to read. Given the mature-sounding voice of Rosalie, it almost seems like she's telling the story years later. But the narrative is written in the present tense, which seems like an odd choice for that sort of story. I'm also a bit confused by Rosalie's comments about liking to see her mother tired and sad. Is there something wrong with this child? (Perhaps not, but in any case, trying to tease out the complex emotions of a five-year-old child is a lot for a picture book to ask of young readers.)

The illustrations are fine, but nothing special. Rosalie's bright orange hair is set off amid a background of more muted pink and grey tones. It works for the subject matter, but I don't know if the pictures are particularly memorable.

Overall, I did enjoy this one, but perhaps not as much as I was expecting. I think my inability to categorize it is interfering a bit with my enjoyment. I'm not quite sure who to recommend this one to, given the subject matter and sophisticated voice of the text.

Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for providing a digital ARC.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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