The child detective is a well-worn character in kid’s literature, from Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys to Judy Moody, Girl Detective and Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe, and on and on and on.
To do something that feels fresh with this sub-genre is no easy feat, which makes André Marois and Patrick Doyon’s very funny The Sandwich Thief all the more remarkable.
The story of young Marin, a boy with foodie parents who craft miraculous sandwiches for his lunch every day. That is, until one Monday when Marin sits down to enjoy his favorite (ham, cheddar and kale) in the lunchroom at school, only to find it missing. This becomes a daily occurrence, and since Marin is required to keep his lunch box in the hallway outside of his classroom, he can’t keep a close eye on it, so he follows clues, sets traps and interrogates suspects.
Patrick Doyon’s angular illustrations lend the story a kind of Hitchcock-ian or Kafka-esque feel, with occasional nods towards Ralph Steadman-style grotesquery, and the limited colour palette adds to the overall sense of paranoia. These pictures aren’t beautiful, but they are striking and engaging, and they do match the tone of the text beautifully.
Marois’ text contains a healthy dose of panic, delivered with wit and humour. There are a number of wonderful asides written into the margins, that add depth to the characters and hel build the world. The book’s portrayal of one boy’s rage against injustice is stunning, especially within the framework of a children’s book. His plight is given significant weight, and his concerns are never laughed off or treated patronizingly.
On the flip side, The Sandwich Thief arguably lacks some in the empathy department, treating a number of secondary characters as, well, less than, with not-so-veiled jabs at people’s appearances and economic classes. In a world where stringent political correctness is the rule (for better or worse) it’s a bit jarring to see some of these references. To be clear, we are not advocates of stringent political correctness, but the jabs contained herein come of as cheap and mean-spirited rather than insightful or biting.
Setting these quibbles aside, however, The Sandwich Thief is a masterful example of how to build tension and atmosphere in children’s literature, both in the text and the illustrations. The original French publication of this book, Le Voleur de Sandwich, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration in French Children’s Literature, and it’s not hard to see why.
Kinderlit.ca received a copy of The Sandwich Thief in exchange for an honest review. Read about our Review Policy HERE.