November 17, 2017

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The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain & Philip C. Stead | SLJ Review

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redstarTWAIN, Mark & Philip C. Stead. The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine. illus. by Erin Stead. 160p. Doubleday. Sept. 2017. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9780553523225.

Gr 4-8 –Using 16 pages of abbreviated handwritten notes from 1880 and outlining a tale Twain made up for his daughters, Stead has created a rhythmic and imaginative story seamlessly blended with intermittent “discussions” between the two authors. Twain’s story is set in a land where “the luckless and hungry remain luckless and hungry for all of their lives,” while “in the United States of America, everyone and everything is given a fair and equal chance. It would be rude to believe otherwise.” Young Johnny, the main character, lives with his mean old grandfather on a piece of arid land with a withered old apple tree and a chicken that his grandfather has ordered him to sell at the market “for something worth eating.” Along the way, he meets an old blind woman who trades a handful of blue seeds she obtained from a fairy for the chicken. After eating the flower that grows from the blue seed, Johnny is able to converse with animals who provide a banquet, help build him a house, and lead him to the missing Prince Oleomargarine. Here Twain disappears, and Stead is obliged to provide the story’s ending. Erin Stead’s numerous softly detailed illustrations in muted browns, greens, and yellows; laser cuttings; and block-printed silhouettes bring the unusual cast of characters to life. VERDICT The combination of Twain’s (often sarcastic) humor and “lessons of life,” a touch of allegory, and Stead’s own storytelling skills result in an awesome piece of fantasy.–Susan Scheps, formerly at Shaker Public Library, OH

This review was published in the School Library Journal September 2017 issue.

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