Thank goodness for friends and guest reviewers. Life is CRAZY busy right now; the show I’m Assistant Directing for is opening next week, so we’re getting insanely busy. I feel like my life consists of class, rehearsal, eat, sleep, repeat. It’s insane.
Charlene the Star and Hattie’s Heroes
By Deanie Humphrys-Dunne
Illustrated by Holly Humphrys-Bajaj
Publisher: Avid Readers Publishing Group
From the back cover:
Charlene the Star is becoming known as a fine jumper, after Winning the Green Jumper Championship at the Sterling Horse Show. She loves jumping, but she wants to do something new and exciting in her spare time. What is her new career? What happens when she meets her new friends Hattie and Wooliam? Charlene solves problems for her new friends, While relying on some old friends to help her succeed in her new adventure. Charlene and her team will delight you with their amusing adventures.
My own summary:
Charlene the Star is horse, a champion jumper in fact, who wants to develop another hobby in her life alongside jumping. One day while listening to a jockey speak about a nervous filly, Charlene realizes that she could help horses with problems. Along with her friends Elliott the dog and Hattie the chicken, Charlene decides to open a new practice: Hattie’s Star Coaching. Through advertisements in the Animal Gazette they assist clients, make new friends, and expand with another business venture.
Charlene is brimming with lively characters ranging from nervous and bored horses to a proud and loyal dog, from an excitable hat-wearing chicken to a calm and steady sheep. Taking the perspective of the animals rather than that of the jockeys or owners is certainly a draw to children, allowing them to enter a world where animals talk, question, and create.
Unfortunately, the charm of the story is bogged down by long blocks of internal monologue set off in italics. The opening page and a half introduces Charlene as she is thinking about her jumps, talking herself through the course ahead of her. This, coupled with conversations that take place in paragraph form, hinders the story in a burdensome style that drags down the plot. Some severe editing could shave off unnecessary ‘fluff’ in both the thought life of the animals and in the excessively-complementary dialogue between them.
The book could also benefit from the addition of transitional phrases to help distinguish scene changes and lapses in time. One animals finishes speaking, and the next paragraph starts with another quotation. My assumption is the scene is still constant, however, I deduce several sentences in that we are actually now six hours later with alluded to action actually taking place.
Another pervasive problem in the book is the dependence on telling rather than showing. For example, on page 5, Charlene says to another horse, “Hello, Ann, it’s so nice to see you again. You and I have been friends our whole lives. But your talent is racing, while mine is jumping.” While the reader learns that Charlene and Ann are lifelong friends and that animals in this world do not also speak to humans, as happens in the Chronicles of Narnia, we have just been told such plainly. And it is insulting.
This information is necessary to the plot, however, a reference to Ann and Charlene together as foals would suffice. Or a shared experience as they were learning how to deal with noisy crowds would offer the same information without insulting the intelligence of children reading the story. The action is stalled and loses depth as a result of utilizing tedious explanation where descriptions or gestures would create movement and color.
Happily, the illustrations strengthen the story; sadly, it only contains three. Since the book is dialogue-heavy, more illustrations could provide much-needed breaks in the text. Adding a few more of these warm pencil drawings in place of some excess words would only help the book convey the atmosphere and characterization it seeks.
The wit that Humphrys-Dunne occasionally drops (“beakmanship” for the chicken’s neat scrawl) and character challenges (“you’ve got to do your best every time, not only when it’s easy”) could give children substance to take away from this book. Unfortunately, there is so much word pollution, they are likely to miss it all together.