Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Tom and Francine: A Love Story

by Sylvia Fraser, Eugenie Fernandes, illus.

Many celebrated Canadian authors have taken a star turn on the stage of children’s literature – Atwood, Richler, and Berton come to mind. Now Toronto writer Sylvia Fraser, a distinguished journalist whose books include her memoir My Father’s House and six adult novels, joins the ranks. Tom and Francine features two favourites of novice children’s writers: cats and rhyming verse. Fraser’s Tom is a rough rural cat, Francine a pampered city Siamese. When Tom comes to town and tries to strike up a conversation, Francine predictably snubs him. Enter a pit bull, evil incarnate. Tom saves Francine, Francine saves Tom.

In the zany pomo urban landscape conjured by Fraser and illustrator Eugenie Fernandes, animals and humans go about their lives with cheerful democracy – flamingoes push perambulators, frogs read Plutarch, clowns walk on stilts, and goats hang up quilts. This goofy applecart is upset by the adrenalin-intoxicated canine, maddened by the sight of the over-refined Francine. (With wolves rehabilitated in literature, the pit bull is seemingly the one animal we can still safely villainize, having engineered their viciousness ourselves.) It’s up to rough-and-ready Tom, his natural virtues still intact, to restore order. But despite her apparently skimpy survival skills, Francine is the one who helps Tom make it in the big city. Using her charms on her Mister, she gets Tom on the payroll, and two tales/tails become one.

Fraser’s verse salutes “The House That Jack Built” (“This is a pit bull who’s nursing the hope…”), echoes “The Night before Christmas,” and evokes Lear and A.A. Milne. But Fraser is a somewhat haphazard versifier, changing rhyme schemes and altering line and verse lengths at will, and her verbal extravagances don’t always compensate for forced or awkward rhythms. However, Fernandes’s stunning illustrations work overtime creating a hyperkinetic forcefield to pull it all together, fish and fowl, sun, moon and stars agitatedly circling the scene. The result cannot fail to mesmerize a child, and as the Mister says of Francine, the book has caught our attention – “Which I suppose is the point of all their invention.”