Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review: Mister Orange, by Truus Matti (Enchanted Lion Books, 2013)

American cover
Release date:  January 22, 2013

Recommended for ages 9-14.

Few foreign books for children wind up translated into English, perhaps not surprisingly given the plethora of titles published each year by American and English-speaking authors from Canada, England, Australia, and other countries.  Often the ones that do make it for release in the U.S. are special titles, and that's the case with the new historical novel Mister Orange by Dutch author Truus Matti.  This title is especially unusual because, although written originally in Dutch and first published in the Netherlands, the book takes place in New York City during World War II and the protagonist is a young American boy, Linus, whose brother has shipped off to fight on the European front.

Mr. Orange, as adults might guess who see the American cover (the Dutch cover looks completely different, as is often the case), is none other than the famous Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, who has moved to New York to escape the repressive political environment in Europe.  With Linus' older brother off at the war, Linus inherits his grocery delivery route, and, unable to remember his customer's foreign name, dubs him Mr. Orange because of his twice monthly delivery of a box of oranges.  The two strike up an unusual friendship, as Mr. Orange shares with Linus his unusual perspective on life.  We learn, for example, how he attempted to capture in his work the raw energy of both boogie-woogie music and New York.

At home, Linus' family anxiously awaits word from Linus' brother Alfie, and each letter is eagerly devoured.  At first, the war seems like something out of his brother's beloved super-hero comic books, with his brother the hero, until Linus reads part of a despairing letter that his parents tried to keep from him.  As the real horrors of war hit home, Linus grows and changes as well.  Can imaginary heroes like Mister Superspeed do any good in a world filled with so much uncertainty and horrors?  Perhaps Mr. Orange can help Linus make sense of it all.

Back matter includes information on Piet Mondrian and his life in New York City in the 1940's.  Also included are additional resources for reading, watching on the Internet, and where to find Mondrian's paintings in museums around the United States.

This is an top-notch historical novel that should appeal to boys as well as girls. It's filled with characters that young people can easily identify with, and also provides interdisciplinary content on World War II, the home front, and art.  It can be effectively paired with a book on Mondrian or further exploration of the artist's works on the Internet in order to fully appreciate the mental images of his apartment and working style described in the book.
Dutch edition of Mister Orange

Truss' first novel, Departure Time, was a 2011 Batchelder Honor Book and I won't be surprised if this book is also recognized by that committee which awards honors to the most outstanding books originally published in a language other than English and then translated and published in the U.S.


PragmaticMom said...

Thank you! I'm posting on Piet Mondrian's Boogie Woogie and an art project for kids using music and painting in his style. I'll link to this post!!!

Charlotte said...

I found Departure Time strange and moving...and am looking forward to this one!