In GNARLYS OF THE NORTH WOODS, author Mary Cuffe Perez and illustrator Sallie Way construct an engaging story about life in the forest. Focusing on central characters called Gnarlys and Gnomes, they clarify differences between the small creatures and provide additional information in “field notes.” In a strong narrative voice, this cleverly conceived and astutely perceived world comes to life, along with the enhancement of detailed black-and-white illustrations.
One of the most delightful aspects of GNARLYS OF THE NORTH WOODS is the playful, imaginative and musical use of language. From the opening declaration “fiddledum!” to the overuse of “juju” (the ability to imitate any song, call or sound in the woods), some coined words such as “boulderdazzlefrumpcake” and “phantasmagoria” are remarkable mouthfuls to experience. Vivid and seemingly audible descriptions about a “bullfrog snore,” “rollicking Canada geese” and the “whisper of snowflakes falling on a dry leaf” demonstrate the author’s mastery of effective writing and storytelling.
Unique observations, humorous interactions and even cranky comments from the characters who are full of personality also contribute to the story’s ability to sustain interest. From direct interjections from the narrator about pausing to put a log on the fire to speculations about wood thrushes losing their jobs, Perez delivers a bird’s-eye view of the natural world. Beautifully written phrases about an “asking and answering song on the brink of evening” and the “conversations of trees” convey the author’s profound understanding and love of nature.
The perfectly selected and rendered visual elements complement the story and add additional dimensions for those who value good graphic design and illustration. Large fonts with curly extenders offer the sensation of branches envisioned as part of Sweet Fat Mama, a tree that the creatures often seek for refuge. The detailed illustrations including those of Gnarlys and crows provide a contrasting sense of scale–and clear evidence for the former’s fear (next to humans).
Barring the stray typo, a rare higher-level word for young readers, a few slow sections, questions about the title’s single character focus and a longing for interior color illustrations, GNARLYS OF THE NORTH WOODS is a highly entertaining, originally conceived and skillfully delivered tale. This book is definitely the ticket for readers searching for a story that will transport and immerse them in a fanciful world.
GNARLYS OF THE NORTH WOODS, categorized as a children’s book, will capture the imagination of multi-generational readers interested in the natural world, lively characters and clever observations. Masterful writing and detailed illustrations enliven this captivating adventure in the forest.
~Andrea Karen Hammer for IndieReader