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Tinka
By Rainy Dohaney
Published by Atheneum Books

Tinka isn't a comic book or graphic novel, it's a 40-page hardcover children's book. It asks "What's it like to be so small you can fit under a door? So small you can fly on the back of a bird? So small you can have an amazing adventure others can only dream about?" Then it invites children to "Join Tinka -- a sheep the size of a cupcake -- and find out!"

So why did I pick this up? That's easy enough; because it's the work of Renee French, whose last foray into children's storytelling produced The Soap Lady, a charming, tragic and fascinating book published by Top Shelf. Realizing that her children's book career might accidentally lead a parent somewhere to pick up the definitely-for-mature-readers collection Marbles in My Underpants, French has adopted a new name for her children's work, Rainy Dohaney.

Tinka is more than a change in author names, though -- it marks a bit of a departure from the darker tone of The Soap Lady, telling its story with a lighter spirit. The Soap Lady seemed intended for a mixed audience, children and Renee French fans alike. And while Tinka will definitely appeal to French's readers, I think it was written and drawn solidly with a younger audience in mind.

Tinka, the sheep the size of a cupcake, is overshadowed by the four other, larger sheep on Farmer McEwen's farm. Tinka is sad because she's too small to see the giant purple spider that comes as a herald of spring every year, and the larger sheep mock her for being small and unable to see the spider.

Tinka's only friend, Sooty the Crow (I love that name, by the way, the best-named crow since Drinky) gives Tinka a ride on his back (she is only the size of a cupcake, remember) and they fly off above the farm and over toward the mysterious spider.

What Tinka learns when she gets close to the "giant purple spider" is a nice lesson in questioning authority and gaining perspective, giving Tinka a new confidence to be happy with herself as she is, so small she can fit under a door. I'm quite sure the lessons here are deliberate, if subtle, and there's never been a better time in history to teach your children not to believe everything they're told by those claiming "authority." It's always better to go out and find the truth for yourself, and Tinka does just that.

The story, created in watercolour and coloured pencils, is told in lovely, subdued shades. The cover is strikingly and appealingly bright, but French uses a more subtle palette inside. Her technique draws the reader into Tinka's world even as it sets the tone for it, and when the revelations come about the purple spider, Tinka's world is filled with strange new colour, symbolizing the new enlightenment she has received.

French really gets to work to her strengths here. Readers of her previous work know she is a bit obsessed with drawing amorphous balls of fuzz with limbs, and if that's not what sheep are, it's what they become, delightfully, under French's stewardship. The environment, McEwen's farm, is another goldmine for French's interests, filled with insects and strange flowers and fuzzy, faceless bees. Probably the most artistically impressive image is the double-page spread of Tinka and Sooty flying high above the farm; the first hint that she is getting a new view of the world, the picture is dizzying in its detail. It shows a close-up Tinka and Sooty looking down on the farm, and the other sheep are tiny -- they look much tinier than a cupcake. A lot is said in Tinka without words.

This lovely volume is recommended for kids ages 3 to 7, and I'm sure that's where it will find its widest appeal. But readers familiar with French's unique contribution to comics will buy it for the lush and gorgeous artwork. They may find themselves surprised by the sophistication of the underlying theme, and they will definitely want to share it with the children in their lives. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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