It Happened on Sweet Street – by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch, Tundra Books, 2020
Here is a sweet new children’s picture book about ruthless competition and the way to resolve it so that everyone can have her cake and eat it, too. Caroline Adderson’s text alternates between straightforward narration and rhythmic phrases, and Stéphane Jorisch’s (whose work I have reviewed before here and here) fantastic images of humans and animals vying to win customers for their popular concoctions. Children will find the story colorful, while both young and older readers will enjoy the exciting and allusive artwork. Are delicious cookies and cakes really worth all the conflict? A trip to Sweet Street sets culinary opinions against the harmony of the neighborhood. Who and what will win?
At first, Sweet Street has only one shop which lives up to its name; the other establishments sell shoes and “bric-a-brac.” Monsieur Oliphant, a bipedal creature whose short trunk makes him a cross between an elephant and some other species, reigns supreme as “Oliphant, Exclusive Creator of Cakes.” People line up like workers on an assembly line to enter his shop, and they exit the proud owners of his delicious creations.
Then the old shoemaker retires and his store is repurposed by one Mademoiselle Fée as a cookie bakery. The new owner is ingenious and energetic, about to give Monsieur Oliphant a run for his money. Every one of her cookies is unique: “She tooled them and jeweled them…/and dusted them with sugar.”
You won’t mistake Stéphane Jorisch’s pictures for the work of any other illustrator. They call to mind, sticking with the baking metaphor, many ingredients, including Picasso, Chagall, and Mordicai Gerstein. However, like Mademoiselle Fée’s cookies, they are unique. A happy little girl with red hair and a yellow hat looks something like a Cubist version of Bemelmans’s Madeline, while the baker’s giant gingerbread people have a futurist look. Kids will find them funny.
Adults will, too, but will also find the surrealist associations to have much more than meets the eye. When yet another baker joins the Sweet Street establishments, her pies make the crazy cookies look like supermarket brands. Eventually, the cookie wars heat up, making the special location into a gooey chaos: “a massacre of cream,/a catastrophe of meringue,/a devastation of crumbs.” Between Adderson’s poetic words and Jorisch’s dream-like images, the tension builds. Someone will have to compromise or find an innovative way to acknowledge each artist and each customer’s favorite indulgence. After all, people willing to wait patiently for pastries should be able to understand that Sweet Street is “also a street of peace.” But don’t be too sure.