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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Children's Literature: "The Banana Tree" by Maggie van Galen, illustrated by Joanna Lundeen

This is the second review I've done for a book written for children. ( I reviewed Paul Janson's book earlier this spring.) And I'm happy to say that I know this author, too, and understand that she grew up listening to her dad's stories, and now tells hers to her own two children.

I know, too, that the illustrator of the book is a friend of the author - not such a common occurrence in the world of publishing as you might have thought. Many authors and illustrators have never met; sometimes the illustrator and the author have very different images in mind for their characters.

The Adventures of Keeno and Ernest begins with "The Banana Tree", written by Maggie van Galen and illustrated by her friend, Joanna Lundeen who, I believe, has also added her artistic paintings to Maggie's children's rooms at their home. How special that must be, living with their mother's characters sharing their space!

Keeno is an adorable, adventurous, somewhat audacious little monkey whose bravado leads him into, literally, dangerous waters. But he is blessed with a very good friend, Ernest the Elephant. Ernest heeds the advice of parents, and suggests that Keeno try to do so as well. And when Keeno cannot resist taking a risk, Ernest, alerted by their mutual friend, Toucan Tom, is able to go to Keeno's rescue. Beyond the rescue itself, Ernest takes the opportunity to coach Keeno toward an appreciative apology to his mother for having taken such a risk.

Maggie van Galen's story as a read-aloud offers language that the children will appreciate, with the long drawn out pleading of Keeno's entreaties when he wants something to the wise elephant's gently-worded reminders. The animals chosen are cleverly true to their natural reputations - the Toucan flies and sounds the alarm, the elephant cautiously remembers what the parents wisely taught, and the monkey is a playful, wily risk-taker who endearingly promises to behave and admittedly finds it hard to do so.

Joanna Lundeen's artwork, painted on canvas and captured beautifully in print, will hold her young audience's eyes on each page. Her illustrations offer both similarities and differences page by page, giving the parents who share this book with their children an opportunity to lead children through the images of Keeno's environment.

Five stars, as we give in the adult world, for this beautiful, engaging story. 
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