Review of Nice Try, Charlie!

Nice Try, Charlie!
by Matt James; illus. by the author
Primary    Groundwood    48 pp.    g
9/20    978-1-77306-180-1    $18.95
e-book ed.  978-1-77306-181-8    $16.95

Sporting a full beard, shaggy hair, and a wide-brimmed hat, Charlie roams his neighborhood finding things: an old television, a pair of mismatched oven mitts (and Aunt Myrtle’s cat). He looks for uses for his finds; “sometimes he finds it harder than he’d like to admit, but he tries.” James (I Know Here, rev. 5/10; The Funeral) uses dry wit, tight pacing, and warmth to turn the story of a neighborhood junk collector into an extraordinary slice of what community can, and does, look like. When Charlie finds a pie, complete in its bakery box, he looks for its owner, in the process making some “nice tries” at helping others with problems. Eventually, Charlie and his neighbors enjoy the fluffy lemon meringue confection. Illustrations created with heavy strokes of acrylic and gouache, with collage elements of cardboard, tape, and photographs, add texture and detail to individualize each character. James varies the perspective: readers look through a restaurant window at Charlie walking down the street and, later, straight down at a circle of hands reaching for forks and plates. The variety in the illustrations as well as the broad brushstrokes create a feeling of the strength and distinctiveness of the people and their neighborhood. This is a notable story of the small events and special people that bind communities.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Maeve Visser Knoth

Maeve Visser Knoth is a librarian at Phillips Brooks School, Menlo Park, ­California. She has chaired the Notable Children’s Books Committee and taught at Notre Dame de Namur University and Lesley University.

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