Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Shelf Awareness--Cornelia and the Jungle Machine

PB Review: Cornelia and the Jungle Machine

Cornelia and the Jungle Machine by Nora Brech (Gecko Press, 32p., ages 4-7, 9781776572595, September 3, 2019)

"I don't want to live here," says Cornelia.

A moving truck sits on the lawn of a large, gloomy house. Cornelia, slumped in a chair, looks around a room cluttered with musty antiques, hunting trophies and dour-looking portraits. "There's no one to play with." When she vents her dissatisfaction to her stressed parents (who are busy unpacking and painting their new home), they suggest that "if [she's] not going to help," she should "go and have a look around outside."

Meandering down the path from her front door, along with her scruffy gray dog, Cornelia crosses an isolated island-of-a-hill, down to a sea of dense, menacing trees. With a closer look, however, she can see signs of fun: a treehouse is visible, as are plenty of birdhouses and a colorful array of the feathered friends who live in them. A long rope ladder descends, and Cornelia hangs onto her dog as she climbs up. And up and up...

...into an increasingly whimsical world. A boy named Frederik, wearing an eyepatch and a huge grin, waves at her from a hammock on the deck of an elaborate, nautical-themed treehouse. Earlier glimpses through the trees did not do it justice. With telescopes, slides, swings and numerous outlandish outbuildings to explore, this is a homestead of which adventurous children can only dream. Frederik welcomes Cornelia inside, where he lives with his many inventions. The "best" by far is a huge metal contraption built into an alcove. This "Jungle Machine" does exactly what its name would suggest: at the merest touch, a jungle is conjured, complete with exotic birds and animals, fruits, vines and a river to sail along--all the way home to a dock right outside Cornelia's gate. When she asks if she can visit again tomorrow, Frederik invites her to come back "every day" if she wishes. Before going inside, Cornelia suggests to her dog that they not tell her parents, who "won't believe us anyway."

Illustrative details abound in this atmospheric picture book of a mere 112 words, all of them dialogue. Brech perfectly depicts an oversized, overstuffed gothic-looking mansion and the frustration of its new young inhabitant, who is small in comparison, with the house, its rooms and even the furniture looming over her. Colors brighten as Cornelia's world expands, and both the forest and Frederik's tree-based home seem to contain more light and air. At the end of this mysterious, magical day, Cornelia, it seems, really does want to "live here." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: A girl feels oppressed by her new home, until she discovers her young neighbor and his wild inventions in a treehouse next door.

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