Review of the Day: The Sandwich Thief by André Marois
Injustice, that sweet universal quality, makes for great children’s books. Whether it’s a picture book or a young adult novel, if you can tap into a reader’s sense of unfairness you have yourself some children’s book gold. It’s the instantaneous gateway to identification. Adults too often forget how painful those early lessons about how the world is an unfair place feel. Children’s books tap into that feeling, while also giving kids a sense of hope. Yes, the world is a mad, bad place sometimes. But there are times when things work out for the best. And if its takes disgusting flavor balls in delicious sandwiches to reach that cathartic ending, so much the better. I wouldn’t argue that Andre Marois’s The Sandwich Thief is the greatest book on this subject I’ve ever seen (it could use a little work in the empathy department), but when it comes to tapping into that feeling of unbridled rage in the face of a cold, calculating world, this title definitely knows its audience.
There are upsides and downsides to having foodies for parents. On the one hand, they can seriously embarrass you when they overdo your school lunches. On the other hand, delicious sandwiches galore! Marin’s a big time fan of his mom’s sandwich constructions, particularly when graced with her homemade mayonnaise, but then one day the unthinkable occurs. Marin goes to take his sandwich to the lunchroom only to find it is gone! When it happens a second time on a second day Marin is convinced that a thief is in his midst. But who could it be? A classmate? A teacher? Everyone is suspect but it’s Marin’s clever mama who knows how to use her mad genius skills to out the culprit, and in a very public way!
Writing a good early chapter book takes some daring. The form is so incredibly limited. It’s best to have a story that can be read in a single sitting by a parent, or over the course of several attempts by a child just getting used to longer sentences. In this book Marois sets up his mystery with care. There are lots of red herrings, but the author also plays fair, including the true villain amongst the innocuous innocents. The adults made for particularly interesting reading. For example, I loved the portrait of Marin’s principal Mr. Geiger, a man so rumpled and ill-fed you wonder for quite some time how he got his current position (he redeems himself at the end, though).
I like to tell folks that we are currently in a new Golden Age of children’s literature. This is, admittedly, a fairly ridiculous statement to make since few people can be aware of a Golden Age, even if they are already waist deep in it. Still, the evidence is striking. Never before have authors or illustrators had so much freedom to play around with forms, construction, colors, art styles, etc. It’s not a free-for-all or anything (unless you’re self-publishing) but ideas that publishers might have balked at twenty years ago are almost commonplace today. Take The Sandwich Thief as one such example. Here you have an early chapter book that draws heavily on the classic comic tradition. But speech balloons aside, artist Patrick Doyon makes every single page an eclectic experience. A French-Canadian editorial illustrator who had never made a children’s book prior to this one, in this book Doyon moves effortlessly between two-page spreads, borderless panels, sequential art, the works. You might be so wrapped up in the form that you’d miss how limited his palette is. Working entirely in orange, red, and black, Doyon’s talents are such that you never even notice the missing colors during your reading experience.
Sadly, there are some aspects to this brand new book that feel like they were written twenty or thirty years ago (and not in a good way). When identifying the potential thieves in his classroom, Marin falls back onto some pretty broad stereotypes. We’re in an era when body acceptance makes old-fashioned fat shaming feel downright archaic. With that in mind, the identification of one student as “Big Bobby” whose “main hobby is eating” is particularly unfortunate. Add in “Poor Marie” whose mom lost her job and can’t afford to eat, and you’ve got yourself an odd avoidance of sympathy. Another reader of this book mentioned that the villains is of a similar lower-socioeconomic level, which is questionable. There are also a couple insults like “Numbnuts” floating about the text that will pass without comment in some households and be a major source of contention in others. FYI.
Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustrated Children’s Literature, French Language, Marois and Doyon’s first collaboration is for any kid that comes in looking for a fun read with a mystery component. With its classy format and striking cover it may even appeal to the Wimpy Kid contingent. Hey, stranger things have happened. It’s a true bummer that the book dumps on so many people along the way but it may still appeal to any kid who craves a little justice in the world. Particularly if that justice comes with the taste of chalk-textured cat pee.
On shelves March 1st.
Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review
Like This? Then Try:
- The Great Cake Mystery by Andrew McCall Smith
- The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake by Robin Newman
- The First Case by Ulf Nilsson
Professional Reviews: Kirkus
It can’t really compare to the English language version, but the original French cover is pretty cute too:
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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