Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Review - Mel & Mo's Marvelous Balancing Act

Mel & Mo's Marvelous Balancing Act
by Nicola Winstanley
illustrated by Marianne Ferrer
Date: 2019
Publisher: Annick Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

How do you create a life in balance?

Mel and Mo may look alike, but these twins’ personalities are far from identical. As they grow up, their differences drive them apart . . . which suits them just fine. Mel’s umbrellas fly off the shelves and Mo’s high-wire feats are the talk of their seaside town. But then Theodora Tweedle’s Raincoats and Roller Skates draws Mo’s crowds away, and umbrellas go out of style. Finally, these siblings have something in common. And maybe each twin has just what they need to create something new . . . together.

Mel and Mo’s Marvelous Balancing Act balances complex concepts of compromise and complementary differences with spare language and a simple story structure. The twins are non-binary characters, adding a layer of diverse representation for young readers that can also serve as an entry point for gender fluidity discussions.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

Let's get something out of the way first. It's highly unlikely this book is going to "serve as an entry point for gender fluidity discussions", unless the parents push it. Mel and Mo are only non-binary insofar as the text never uses a single singular pronoun to refer to them. The way they're drawn, most readers will likely assume they identify as girls. (Yes, we need books that represent diversity, but trying to turn a book like this into a discussion about gender fluidity is a huge stretch.)

Basically, this is a cute story about a set of twins who look alike but have very different personalities and preferences. As they grow up, their differences make them argue, and when they're adults, they go their separate ways: Mel takes over the family umbrella store and Mo runs away to join the circus. Both are happy... until Theodora Tweedle comes to town with her fancy raincoats and rollerskates. Suddenly, nobody wants umbrellas anymore. And everybody's too busy skating in the rain to want to watch circus acts with poodles and unicycles. So the twins join forces to overcome their problem... and a solution is born.

The solution seems kind of anticlimactic to me. When you've got something as fanciful as Theodora Tweedle's Spectacular Raincoats and Roller Skates, you kind of expect there to be a less mundane solution to the problem at hand. The solution makes sense... but it's just not that interesting. The idea is that Mel and Mo work better together than they do apart... but, given that this is a story about identical twins, that's sort of obvious.

The illustrations are quite cute, especially the ones with Mo and the performing poodles. Though the drawing style looks simple, there are actually lots of interesting details to look at.

For what it is (a story about twins discovering that the differences that make them fight can also be what save their careers), it's a good book. I just wish it wasn't being marketed as something it really isn't. People who buy this as a gateway to discussions about gender fluidity are likely to be disappointed; there are better books out there for that purpose.

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

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 4/5
Originality: 4/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3.33 out of 5

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