Andrea Cheng,
Anna the Bookbinder,
illustrated by Ted Rand
(Walker & Co., 2003)

When I settled in between Vinnie and Molly, my usual test audience for kids' books, I was worried how they'd respond to Anna the Bookbinder. There are no fey creatures, heroes with swords or flashy action scenes, no sing-song rhymes or blatant product tie-ins in this story by Andrea Cheng; the art by Ted Rand, while vibrant and lifelike, is subdued and less colorful than some children's books I've read.

My concerns were groundless. Cheng's story about a girl in her father's workshop, set in the days before mass production and machinery made craftmanship an impersonal thing, held their attention from beginning to end.

Anna's father binds books by hand, in the old-fashioned way employing leather, thread and beeswax. Some people have no patience for the craft, preferring a faster and cheaper binding that has no art or durability. But Anna adores her father's work as much as the stories contained in the books he binds. Meanwhile, Anna's mother is pregnant and the baby is overdue. When she finally goes into labor, there is an important project on the table that needs finishing, but Papa has more important things on his mind with his wife and midwife upstairs. So Anna gets to work, putting into practice the techniques she's learned by watching her father work over the years.

There is a treasured volume of Aesop's Fables in the story, and Cheng cleverly works the theme of Aesop's famous tale, "The Tortoise & the Hare," into the plot. Equally important are Cheng's messages of family, craftmanship and pride in one's work. Rand's art glows with life, evoking a different time and a more relaxed pace; the contented and concentrated expressions of his characters are especially good.

Anna the Bookbinder is an excellent story that will fascinate and captivate children. This is highly recommended.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 6 April 2003

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