A small collection of happinesses by Zana Fraillon & Stephen Michael King

cover image

This altogether quirky tale brings together the young, lonely child, Hettie, and her new neighbour, Ada - the irascible (and possibly grieving) older woman who has lost her partner in life, Bessie.  Initially, Hettie and Ada are sandpaper acquaintances, roughly rubbing each other up the wrong way until edges are smoothed off. Eventually they become charming fellow adventurers. Following the story of a black panther in their neighbourhood (is it Bessie’s ghost?) and collecting facts and fantasies for their small collection of happiness, together they make memories and connections with the natural world, with their neighbours and with each other. 

This tale is winsome and meandering and occasionally odd. The central characters can be frustrating and endearing at the same time, and their friendship seems both unlikely and yet inevitable.  Some young readers may not grasp or appreciate the floaty, ethereal quality of the story. It hides some veiled environmental themes and issues related to grief and loss. It posits the notion that one can reappear as a ghostly being after death. And the crumbling apartment destined for redevelopment or destruction actually hides a secret that needs to be ‘miraculously’ uncovered. Hettie’s own circumstances seem vaguely sad and isolated, but this does not impede her feisty view of life.  Eventually everything seems to find resolution and possibility, but I am not entirely sure that this will warm the hearts of young readers in the target audience of 7-10. This book may intrigue some, and will probably impress some adult judges for its esoteric, uniquely whimsical qualities. (I accept that I may be the exception.)  Small illustrations by Stephen Michael King, in his recognisable style, head the start of each chapter, and stylistically there are some very different ‘modern abstract’ full page illustrations to divide one chapter from the next.

Themes: Friendship,Dreams, Ghosts, Memories, Relationships, Development, Loneliness.

Carolyn Hull