Pierre in Love
By Sara Pennypacker; illustrations by Petra Mathers
Orchard Books; $16.99
40 pp; ISBN-13: 978-0439517409
Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews
With all the makings of a classic love story, Sara Pennypacker's Pierre in Love both entertains and encourages children to find the courage necessary to follow their hearts.
Pierre thinks of himself as just an ordinary fisherman. He's smitten with Catherine, the local ballet teacher who's elegant and sophisticated, and he thinks of her day and night. It's clear he's absolutely in love and soon decides to tell her. He dons a fancy red shirt, combs his hair and grooms his mustache in preparation, but loses his nerve at the last moment and ends up surreptitiously leaving his gift of a seashell on her doorstep. Again and again, poor love-struck Pierre intends to reveal his affections to Catherine and time and time again, he shies away from knocking on her door at the last minute, leaving only his gift to her behind. That is, until the day Catherine catches him unaware and Pierre's faced with a now or never moment -- can he make the most of it? And what happens then?
Pennypacker's (Clementine, Stuart Goes to School) sweet story about the unexpected pleasure found in taking a chance -- in life and in love -- is sure to captivate early elementary school readers. The dramatic change in Pierre's fortune that occurs when he finally tells Catherine how much he loves her and she replies that she loves someone else is surprising in more than one way. And of course, Catherine's affections for the fisherman she thinks of as far more adventurous than she could ever be, the Pierre she doesn't recognize in the fancy scarlet shirt he wears when he prepares to visit her, provides an unexpected, happy surprise for readers.
Pennypacker's descriptive writing is strikingly vivid; poor Pierre is so sleepless with love for Catherine that "deep plum-colored shadows had grown beneath his eyes"; Catherine's heart does a petit jeté when she finds the gifts her secret admirer leaves, an especially fitting response for a ballet teacher; when Pierre tells Catherine he loves her, he's relieved: "Feelings are like tides-- you can't hold them back!" Her construction of the book's narrative highlights the tension and suspense in the most dramatic way possible, keeping the interest of the reader from the beginning until the very last page. And the big reveal of Catherine's reciprocated affection for Pierre is charming and moving.
Likewise, award-winning illustrator Petra Mathers' watercolor art is just as colorful and expressive, equal to the task of reflecting Pennypacker's words. The seascapes are made up of vivid jewel shades of blues and greens; a bouquet of wild roses is voluminous as well as delicate; and the visual change that takes place, the lightening and brightening of the colors in the pages after Pierre reveals his feelings for Catherine, brings the story to life.
The warm and relaxed tone of Pierre in Love lets the action speak for itself in a story that celebrates courage and being yourself.
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