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Goodness Gracious, Gulliver Mulligan

by Susan Chalker Browne, Cynthia Nugent, illus.

An eye-catching yellow cover shows a tall boy sporting a faint smile, tousled hair, and a furrowed brow. He is surrounded by classmates, half his size, all fixating on his great height. Sadly, Gulliver Mulligan doesn’t have any friends. Soon we meet another odd character with no friends – a teeny tiny boy dressed in yellow: Mortimer Goss.

While Newfoundland author Susan Chalker Browne uses vivid details to describe the outward appearance of these strange characters, the plot lacks strong development. The crisis that ensues when little Mortimer disappears on a class outing happens quite suddenly. Mrs. Honeytree, the teacher, was chatting to the children as they marched along when suddenly she “clapped her hand over her mouth. Someone was missing – Mortimer Goss was gone!” Similarly, after Gulliver rescues Mortimer, the two misfits abruptly become best friends. Trying to dramatize these shifts in plot, the author overloads the dialogue with exclamation points.

Vancouver illustrator and art teacher Cynthia Nugent creates bright, detailed watercolours that show interesting classroom bulletin boards, colourful and varied children’s clothes, and busy classroom activities. Facial expressions are true-to-life, although the depiction of Gulliver straining under the weight of the tree and a freakish looking Mortimer stuck high in the branches is disturbing.

Clearly impeded by his size, Gulliver finally achieves pride and friendship through an act of physical prowess. But because Gulliver doesn’t experience emotional growth to parallel his new-found physical strength, he remains two-dimensional. In the end, Gulliver and Mortimer are friends, but only with each other, and so the earlier sadness of the loners lingers.