cover image Harmonica Night

Harmonica Night

Mary-Claire Helldorfer, M. C. Helldorfer. Atheneum Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-80532-5

Helldorfer's (Jack, Skinny Bones, and the Golden Pancakes) disjointed story takes on a familiar theme--the nighttime fantasy adventure of a sleepless child. Here, a boy becomes a pirate and goes on a sea voyage with a motley cast of characters who are also members of his family. From the start, the story's underlying logic is weak and it progressively deteriorates as various relatives are introduced. Gramma is the first, but it isn't clear where she comes from or why she leads the boy to the beach outside their home. In each spread, Natchev's (Forri the Baker) pictures introduce new elements that add to the confusion. For example, in the spread in which Uncle Pat appears, the boy is suddenly dressed as a pirate, without any indication of where he found the costume. Eventually, the whole family, Mom and Dad included, ends up on the beach and Uncle Pat plays the harmonica, signaling the end of the fantasy and time for bed. While Natchev's illustrations contain many imaginative and enjoyable departures from the text (Aunt Jane's skirt is Sea Monster Isle, Mom is cast as an underwater sea monster), they fight with Helldorfer's words. Neither text nor art fills in necessary details to hold the story together, resulting in a frustrating reading experience. Ages 5-9. (May)