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Rescuing Einstein’s Compass

by Shulamith Levy Oppenheim, George Juhasz, illus.

Rescuing Einstein’s Compass recounts a memorable day in the life of a young boy named Theo when he meets “the most famous man alive.” Theo’s parents introduce him to Albert Einstein and suggest the pair go sailing together. Initially tongue-tied in the presence of such a great man, Theo relaxes out on the water when they talk about why Einstein became a physicist. When Einstein was five years old, his father gave him a compass, a treasured keepsake he fondly shows to Theo. The seemingly magic movements of the needle guided him to a lifelong mission to understand the unseen forces of the universe. But a sudden wave causes Einstein to lose his balance as he’s telling Theo this, and the compass tumbles overboard. Compassionate Theo jumps in to rescue the precious item, and Einstein declares him to be the bravest and kindest boy he knows.

American writer Shulamith Levy Oppenheim attempts to transform a real-life personal memory into a picture book with questionable success. Although we are given a glimpse of the brilliant, eccentric, lovable Einstein, most readers of the targeted age group are generally not ready for his theories. In the interest of simplifying concepts for them, the tale loses direction, with the storyline wavering between fiction and non-fiction, and the scientific elements never fully explained. At times the text is overly punctuated and the language awkward and hackneyed.

Vancouver illustrator George Juhasz’s expressive watercolour illustrations show gentle activity and nostalgic charm. Two-page spreads seem to float behind the printed text and extend the visual appeal. Attractive endpapers depicting the crew and famous compass provide a polished beginning and ending to the tale, but the uneven writing distracts the reader, making this a book that’s unlikely to have any lasting impact.