Fatima and the Clementine Thieves by M. Messier
Messier, Mireille. Fatima and the Clementine Thieves. Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. Red Deer Press, 2017
Fatima helps her grandfather in their clementine orchard every day, caring not only for the trees and their harvest, but also for the spiders that protect the trees from insects. But when elephants ravage the orchard that she and her grandfather rely on, Fatima worries how they will save both the orchard and the elephants. Relying on advice from neighbours, Fatima’s grandfather determines to shoot the elephant mother and two calves, spending his last coins on a gun and ammunition. But Fatima seeks a solution outside human invention and rallies her spider friends to protect the orchard, saving both the orchard and the elephants from destruction.
Messier’s Fatima is capable and inventive, driven not only by care for her family but also for the natural world: the spiders, the elephants, and the clementine trees. In a story otherwise populated by men, Fatima is a leader, embracing and befriending spiders who are usually feared or ignored, seeking solutions that will be best for all. Messier ensures that Fatima’s voice fills the pages; though the story is occasionally awkward in its transitions from scene to scene, her joy, her fear, her tenacity, and her words hold this story together. While the treatment of the orchard as the family’s sole livelihood is perhaps simplistic, Messier makes a strong statement about violence, in the end turning a gun into a support for a repaired clementine tree.
Grimard’s beautifully warm illustrations are the star here, evoking Fatima’s joy and the grandfather’s devotion to her; the beauty and power of the elephants; and the strength of the smallest creatures, whether little girl or spider. Fatima and the Clementine Thieves is a lovely book that reminds readers how, with compassion and tenacity, someone small can make a powerful difference. Recommended for ages 5-7.
Recommended: 3 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Katherine Schock
Katherine is a high school English teacher currently working on an MLIS at the University of Alberta. Her passion for children’s literature is kindled daily by her two small children and her much larger students.
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