29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy

illus. by Lisa Brown. 32p. McSweeney's McMullens. 2014. Tr $16.50. ISBN 9781938073786.
Gr 4–8—Innovative in both its style and gloomy dénouement, this picture-book mystery unfolds as an episodic essay of 29 seemingly random observations. It employs both narrative and expository voices as it describes an old-timey downtown pharmacy with "Styrofoam heads wearing wigs" in the window and employees wearing long white coats.The Swinster Pharmacy remains unchanged in what is "usually a quiet town," and this timelessness presents a puzzle that two children investigate tirelessly as they are certain that there is something terribly wrong with this establishment. Careful observers will find clues in the illustrations that supply reasons for the seemingly gratuitous obsessiveness. The story is written in a droll, but authoritative voice reminiscent of pre-1960s journalese, and the art has a flat, understated style that is reminiscent of Marc Simont's work. The two friends are essentially reporters, and their reports read like poetic fragments: "15. The building is a perfect square./We measured it last night," "18. Something about the door is electric as opposed to acoustic./It closes like a hiss,/like the serpent in the Garden of Eden/or a slow, dead tire." This picture book is a wee bit odd in tone, it is true. Nevertheless, it could be used a springboard for readers to develop and solve the implicit whodunit story, or as an opportunity to analyze what constitutes solid evidence versus allusive facts.—Sara Lissa Paulson, The American Sign Language and English Lower School, New York City
Siblings investigate the Swinster Pharmacy: is it a run-of-the-mill shop that sells "aspirin and toothpaste," as a police officer asserts? Or, is it something more sinister? Snicket nails the intensity of a child's curiosity, but the book (twenty-nine observations ranging from quirky to lyrical to matter-of-fact) ultimately--and perhaps intentionally--leaves readers in the dark. Brown's illustrations are just right: gloomy and eerie.

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