cover image MARY SMITH


Andrea U'Ren, . . FSG, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34842-7

Inspired by a historical curiosity, U'Ren's (Pugdog) robust tale will grab readers with its quirky subject matter and witty delivery, and encourage them to imagine the past. First introduced in a period photo, the real-life Mary Smith was a "knocker-up," someone hired to wake people; an endnote situates the need for this profession during the rise of modern factory and mill work. Only slowly does U'Ren reveal the fictionalized Mary's career, slyly piquing the audience's curiosity about the protagonist's purposeful, pre-dawn stride around London. "She takes one dried pea (wrinkly!) from her pocket and puts it into her peashooter. Then... she blows! Tink! She's hit the baker's window!" Her tour concludes at sunrise, when she returns home to her daughter, who has been dismissed from school. It turns out that the girl shot a pea at a sleeping classmate, hitting the teacher instead. "For shame!" rebukes the stout, no-nonsense Mary, before collapsing with laughter. "We really must work on your aim!" That gleeful irreverence pervades the story; in another example, to the mayor's "See you tomorrow morning, right?" Mary cheerily replies, "Dim and early!" U'Ren's London has the hearty, old-fashioned styling of early-20th-century illustration. She favors doughy-faced characters, broad washes of color and thick black outlines. At the same time her compositions are fresh and modern, merging with the semi-nostalgic style for a distinctive, appealingly quaint mood. Ages 4-8. (Aug.)