Friday, December 5, 2008

The Sugar Child - Book Review

Title: The Sugar Child
Author: Monique De Varennes
Illustrator: Leonid Gore
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Athenaeum/Anne Schwartz Books (October 5, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0689852444
ISBN-13: 978-0689852442

The Sugar Child is a delightful story for the kindergarten through second grade bunch. It has all the makings of a “wish upon a star” fairy tale. However, this story is more unique than Cinderella or The Gingerbread Boy. The Sugar Child is made with love by a childless baker and his wife.

The setting takes place in a small Quebec town where a little girl is formed from marzipan and magically comes to life over night. Her name is Matine. The baker and his wife dance for joy because they now have a child they can love. The couple takes great care to protect Matine’s fragile, sugary skin. When it rains, Matine is not allowed outside because her fragile skin would be washed away. She becomes sad and wants to cry but her parents talk her out of it. Matine’s parents want to protect her from the sorrow that sometimes happens in life.

Although they are able to stop her tears this time they are not so successful when Matine wants to visit her best friend who is seriously ill. Matine knows the importance of her condition but she doesn’t let her friendship with Jean-Paul stop her from risking her own life to visit him at his home. She covers herself with a cape and hood then runs in the down pouring rain to Jean-Paul’s home.

This story is about friendship and love. Illustrated by Leonid Gore with full page pastel art, giving the story a soft and delicate structure it needs. The characters and landscape have a soft glow and Matine shimmers where you can almost “feel” the sugary glaze surface of the marzipan pastry. The illustrations are dream like with soft and billowy characters.

As you would expect, magic happens. Matine sheds tears of sadness for her fragile friend’s health and her marzipan shell is washed away. Matine is transformed into a real girl. However, the story does not make it clear if Jean-Paul recovers so miraculously but illustrations demonstrate that his spirit is lifted.

Young children will love this imaginative tale and the happy ending. I think it deals with the possibility of death in a unique way. The reader doesn’t know if Matine is going to melt or not so to a five year old the act of Matine running out in the rain is a suspenseful moment.

About the author: Monique de Varennes put in thirteen years at boarding school, then went to Cornell University, majoring in English Literature, and then to Johns Hopkins University, receiving an M.A. from the Writing Seminars. She worked in publishing for a number of years, and took great joy in raising her children, Chris and Kate. Gradually she began writing again, both books for young people, edited by the gifted Anne Schwartz, and short fiction for adults. Her fiction has appeared in literary magazines, and has received a Pushcart Prize.

About the Illustrator: Leonid Gore immigrated to the United States from the Former Soviet Union, where he trained at the Art Institute of Minsk and illustrated over fifteen books for children. Kirkus praised Jacob and the Stranger by Sally Derby for Gore’s “stunning black and white illustrations … evanescent, dreamlike.” He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Write it down,


  1. Carma...great book review and perfect for this time of the year.

  2. Carma, I look forward to your book reviews and other information for writers. This sounds like a wonderful story and I will check it out/


  3. This sounds like a lovely book, Carma. I'll look out for it here inthe UK.

  4. Hi Donna, I never thought about the book for this time of year but you are right. It goes with the season.


  5. Thank you Terri, It is a very sweet story. The more I read a variety of picture books the more I enjoy them.


  6. Dorothy, I hope you can find this book in the UK.