Book Review: Constance and the Great Escape by Pierre Le Gall
It’s fairly rare in children’s literature to run across an unlikeable character with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Sure Junie B. Jones breaks some rules, Max is difficult, and Pigeon can be self-centered, but all of those characters provoke sympathy from the reader.
Rude and manipulative, her over-the-top behavior will come as a bit of a shock to those used to warmer, friendlier characters. In Constance and the Great Escape, Le Gall presents a personality that is completely disagreeable, yet difficult to stop reading about. An easy reader series worth checking out.
After pushing her parents, teacher, and principal to the breaking point with her wild behavior, Constance is sent to the ironically named Jolly Boarding School, in hopes that the strict rules and regulations will change her ways. Alone and missing her huge, unruly cat Tiny, Constance hatches a plan – if she’s there to correct her behavior, what if it doesn’t need fixing? Constance “shapes up” in a hurry, fooling her boarding school headmasters and earning a ticket home to continue her misbehaving ways.
The story is told from the perspective of Constance, and she is the quintessential unreliable narrator. On every page, the text tells her side of things, while the pen and ink illustrations tell the truth. When she says her teachers are bad, the artwork shows Constance shooting a fire extinguisher into the principal’s office. When she states that her parents don’t want her to be happy, the page shows Constance demolishing the house.
Don’t underestimate the intelligence of young readers. While there will likely be some folks who say this sort of book is setting a bad example, I disagree. Her bad behavior and attitude of denial is where the fun lies. Kids know that Constance isn’t a role model, but will enjoy her mischievous exploits.
You don’t often see these two sentences next to each other, but here goes:
A character with no appeal. A book many young readers will enjoy.
Find this book at your local library with WorldCat.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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