2 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
When the constant blizzard rendered
Eden Town an endless white,
Their final hope of rescue
Jimmy carried through the night.
As the brave pup ventured
Toward faraway Ardenboer,
Eden's folk couldn’t but wonder:
Is Jimmy gone forevermore?
As my attempt at a poetic blurb hopefully illustrates, A Bell for Jimmy, by Theo Wadsworth, is the many-stanzaed story of an abruptly snowbound little town known as Eden. After several weeks of continuous snowfall and a failed attempt to reach the nearest source of help, which claimed the lives of 20 people, the villagers are facing their own mortality when a literal underdog emerges. Jimmy, initially thought to be a “foolish mongrel,” courageously strikes out into the “glacial blaze” in search of Eden’s much-needed assistance. Will he return with help and supplies, or was the furry hero swallowed up by the bitter blizzard?
A Bell for Jimmy is a 50-stanza, rhyming poem meant for children. Each 4-line stanza occupies a right-hand page, accompanied on the left by the full-page, black-and-white crosshatch illustrations of Julia Naurzalijeva. The rhyme scheme, storytelling style, and drawings all gave me a Victorian vibe, although the book never mentions a specific year in which these events are supposed to have occurred. The reader follows a traveler, a stranger to Eden Town, who hears the church bell ringing when he arrives. It has been ringing for hours when the stranger finds the store in the middle of the village, where he meets an old man, who then explains the story behind the bell-ringing tradition.
As a lover of poetry, traditional or otherwise, I was eager to get into this book. I actually really enjoyed books like this one when I was a kid. After the first several pages, I was engrossed and looking forward to writing this review. At first, I thought this book was for very young kids, with the expectation that an adult would read it aloud to a child in order to fully appreciate the rhymes and so both would admire the illustrations. I was a bit disappointed that the illustrations weren’t colorful, as my little ones would prefer. I did like the style of the pictures though, especially those of buildings or nature. When I arrived at some of the full-on faces, I felt they were a bit distorted-looking, reminding me of Tim Burton animation. Personally, I found a few of the people-heavy images were too creepy for kids. Then, somewhere around page 40 and the sixth week of uninterrupted snow, this story gets really bleak. As a parent, I think it gets too bleak, at least for children.
The villagers start losing cattle, send for help, and start rationing their resources. I felt that this was enough to get the point across, but Wadsworth apparently didn’t think so. After the “20 young ones” fail to return,
And I don’t even want to speculate about what is implied by,“The painful days which followed had an unreal quality, with every home an island hell of crucifying misery.”
At this point, I wouldn’t read it to my little kids, so I figured maybe the story is intended for older children to read to themselves. This theory is a weak one, however, with words like “treachery,” “harbinger,” and phrases like “mordant quietude of tombs.” As a result, I have no idea what exact age group this book is intended for, but I think the vocabulary and heaviness of subject rule out kids under 10. I’m not sure how many kids over age 10 would want to read a very traditional, long poem, but I suspect there aren’t many. I visited the book’s dedicated website, but other than referring to it as a children’s story, a target audience isn’t suggested. Additionally, the main character, Jimmy, is not even mentioned until page 75, which made him feel like an afterthought, in my opinion.“There were acts of frightful cowardice, there were deeds supremely bold, as under the strain we all became more striking to behold.”
On top of all this, A Bell for Jimmy needs editing, with numerous missing and misplaced commas, missing hyphens, and lack of appropriate quotation marks. These errors were distracting and kept me from feeling enveloped by the story. I love the premise of this book (who doesn’t love a dog-heroics story?), and I appreciate that Wadsworth and Naurzalijeva apparently want to reinvigorate interest in a traditional style, but the executed result was a very depressing, almost Poe-like story that I wouldn’t share with my children, at least not as-is. I would only recommend this one to die-hard ABCB rhyme scheme lovers who don’t mind paying $16 for a book about a dog. Perhaps, after some tweaking, trimming, and polishing, Jimmy’s bell could ring much more clearly and joyfully in the hearts of readers. Until then, though, I have to give A Bell for Jimmy, by Theo Wadsworth, 2 out of 4 stars.
A Bell For Jimmy
View: on Bookshelves
Like SamSim's review? Post a comment saying so!