Based around a young family of rather naive but effortlessly charming youngsters and their adventures, Mark M. Even’s THE WONDERS OF THE PECULIAR PARASOL is a semi-surrealist, multi-generational fairytale based around a series of tailored childhood fantasies.
As those of us who have children know, the art of play can, at times, seem to be a dying one, lost to screens and digital ‘imagination’. In that context, the deep imaginings ingrained in the text of this book, perhaps aimed at children of about 8 or 9, has an instant appeal. The children exist in a world that’s effortlessly pleasant and family-oriented, and when they discover the central feature of the story, the titular parasol, it takes on a role that appears to almost mythologise imaginative play (although in the book the adventures are portrayed as very real).
The trio of children, all aged ten, each take turns to engage with the parasol, which takes them flying from their grandmother’s house into a series of cartoony, eventful landscapes. First off, there’s the role of Princess in a medieval castle, a kind of mini ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’ adventure. Next, there’s the Space ship captain on a mission to mars, following his gut to a more vibrant, fast-paced adventure. Then wizards. Each child gets to ask a single question of their guide around the way that the parasol works, and they must collaborate to work out its mysteries. They learn that the adventures it delivers will exist only while they are ten years old, and, working together, extract the answer to their grandmother’s earlier question from when she was young to help piece together the puzzle.
The charm of the text lies in its sense of realism: the dialogue largely feels natural and flowing, the interactions between the siblings and cousins laced with both rivalries and affection. The sense of wonder and the more mundane aspects of their relationships really do come through in the exchanges. As a tale, THE WONDERS OF THE PECULIAR PARASOL is pleasant and would make a nice otherworldly read for the average youngster, without ever really entirely escaping–the parasol itself aside–the tropes of fairytale-style children’s fiction. Is that a flaw? It depends on what you’re looking for from a children’s book. THE WONDERS OF THE PECULIAR PARASOL doesn’t break any molds, but instead sits in the comfortable ground of nicely-written but not spectacularly memorable children’s tales. One, perhaps, for those youngsters who are truly hooked on the idea of the magical, especially for parents and caregivers wanting to bring a little bit of the mystique of the imagination into a more every day environment.
THE WONDERS OF THE PECULIAR PARASOL is a magical fusion of several fairytales into a single plot, with a nice sense of the family and an impressive grasp of childhood interaction and narrative.
~James Hendicott for IndieReader