The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead (9780553523225)
An unfinished children’s story by Mark Twain has been completed by the remarkable Steads. Found in the Mark Twain archives in Berkeley, the story was written by Twain for his daughters one night. Only rough notes told the tale to Stead who then worked to complete the entire story, creating both the story itself and a side narrative of Stead hearing the story directly from Twain. The main story is about Johnny, a boy who finds himself poor and alone in a land ruled by a tyrannical king. Johnny receives seeds from a woman, seeds that allow him to speak to animals, something that transforms his life. Accompanied for some of the story by his faithful chicken friend, Johnny discovers the meaning of courage and friendship as he attempts to rescue the prince.
This book tumbles the reader directly into a story that is remarkably familiar and yet distinctly unique too. Stead’s writing is exceptional, building a full story that is robust and captivating using only a scaffolding created by Twain. There is a lovely seamlessness to the writing, incorporating Twain’s and Stead’s writing into one grand book. The nods to folktales are lovely and so are the departures as well.
Erin Stead’s illustrations are fine and detailed. She invites readers into the world that is being built, allows them to meet the animals, shows them the pain and hope tangibly on the page. The illustrations move from portraits to landscapes, from small to large, close to far.
An incredible achievement in children’s books, this one is worthy of awards and I hope receives some! Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.