|Jan/Feb 2005 Book Reviews|
Claudia Mauner, Elisa Smalley. Sophia's Scrapbook: An Adventure in Venice.
Chronicle Books. 2003.
At first glance Zoe Sophia would appear to be a travel book for young people. I'm sure that it does accomplish that to a certain degree, it is after all about a little girl and her dog who leave New York to visit her great aunt in Venice, Italy. But after establishing that Aunt Dorothy is a writer and Zoe an aspiring artist it seemed to me that the book would appeal most to those girls and boys who love to collect things and stuff them between the pages of diaries and journals. Zoe is determined not only to make memories, but to treasure them in the appropriate manner. She keeps track of where she goes and seeks out the most unusual and unique of destinations. Along the way there are photos to take, drawings to make and all manner of ephemera to collect and paste into her scrapbook. Zoe Sophia is determined to absorb as much of Venice as possible. This makes her more than just the average traveler and her book more than the typical children's adventure.
Of course there is a bit of excitement to be found. Zoe's dog Mickey is lost after a gondola ride which makes for a harrowing few pages as they retrace their steps in vain to rediscover him. Mickey is eventually found of course, along with new friends and new favorite places. Zoe loves to eat Italian food and describes the restaurants and meals as if making future plans to cook and create on her own. She delivers brief history lessons and stories about artists and opera and even St. Mark. Her delivery is direct and funny and the authors manage to convey a great deal of information through Zoe as if she is merely a dear friend regaling you with stories. This is the best way for young readers to learn as it piques their interest without bogging them down in too many details. If they want to learn more about gondolas or Carnevale Zoe Sophia provides a starting point for their own explorations. And Zoe is the perfect guide to send them on their way.
I found the scrapbook aspect of this book to be most appealing though as it makes an excellent choice for crafty children looking for ways to express their own interest in theater tickets and menus and even sugar packets. (Something author Claudia Mauner admits collecting herself when she was young.) I also thought it was wickedly cool that great aunt Dorothy has books by Dickens, Capote, Hemingway and yes, Stephen King, prominently displayed on her bookshelves. This is clearly a children's book that acknowledges children have talents and brains. It is refreshingly different and a joy to read and no child with their own glue stick should be without it!