Carlie Gibson (text), Tamsin Ainslie (illus.), The Sisters Saint-Claire, Allen & Unwin, Oct 2016, 44pp., $19.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781760291563
This is a fully-illustrated book, although not in a standard picture book format, being, as it is 44 pages long. It tells the story of a family of French mice consisting of five sisters, including the smallest one, called Cecile. There are French touches in the story; each of the girls has a very French name, for example. Their family name is Saint-Claire and Cecile is, on one occasion, called a madam-mouselle (a joke which might well be lost on young readers).
Each Sunday the older sisters visit the local market to shop. One day Cecile decides she should join them and, as she is a great baker decides to set up a stall with her cakes and pies. This is not a success, however, until the arrival of the Queen who buys some of Cecile’s wares. She puts in a standing order and Cecile’s business takes off.
The story is told in rhyme, making it good to read aloud. There are occasional scansion problems but overall the tale works well as verse. The illustrations are very pretty in a slightly old-fashioned way but, unlike a true picture book, don’t really provide a separate or additional narrative. They perform a decorative function and, as such, give young readers a visual image of each of the mice and their activities.
These are anthropomorphic mice, who perform human functions, wear clothes and experience human emotions. This device allows the author to address a range of themes relevant to human experience. The book explores family relationships, particularly that between siblings. Furthermore, each of the mice sisters has a special talent. Discussed too, is what it is like to be the youngest and how this can sometimes lead to the littlest one being overlooked. Ultimately, however, the family discovers that they can learn a lot from Cecile.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel