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Caramba and Henry

by Marie-Louise Gay

Author/illustrator Marie-Louise Gay returns with a follow-up to 2005’s Caramba. Gay is the reigning queen of Canadian picture books for a reason, and Caramba and Henry finds her doing what she does best: showcasing the tight knot between older and younger siblings.

Caramba, you’ll recall, is the only non-flying feline in a world where flying comes as naturally as purring. Having always wished for a baby brother — someone special to share his secrets with — he’s now faced with tantrum-prone Henry. Worst of all, Henry can’t seem to stop flying. Caramba’s mother decides it will be Caramba’s job to look after Henry until his airborn tendencies are under better control.

After a few missteps, Caramba hits on the idea of tethering Henry like a kite, which proves effective until Henry manages to wriggle free and disappear into the afternoon sky. The tense hours of searching that follow set the stage for Caramba’s final moment of realization – he really does have something to teach Henry about flying, and Henry might just be that special sibling after all.

Gay’s illustrations match the best of her previous work. Caramba and Henry inhabit a colourful, slightly frizzy world, and the skinny limbs and pot-bellies lend every character a toddleresque cuteness. There’s always momentum to Gay’s pictures, a wind that eddies along the pages and pushes the story forward.

While Caramba and Henry lack the electrical charge of Gay’s other famous siblings, Stella and Sam, this is largely appropriate. Caramba is more introspective, and Henry can’t even talk yet, limiting the amount of engagement that can occur between the two.

This is a basic story about childhood relationships that will play very well to the pre-school set.