Maya’s Big Scene by Isabelle Arsenault

Review by Logaine Navascués

Tundra Books (Penguin Random House), February 2021

48 pages, hardcover, $22.99 CAD, ISBN 978-0-7352-6760-2

Ages 4–8, Grades Pre-K–3

Picture Book, Fantasy, Comedy

When Maya decides to direct a play, all of her friends in the Mile End neighbourhood join in. But as soon as she starts bossing them around, some actors try to find a way out, revealing how easily a driven leader can become a dominant ruler, in spite of having good intentions. 

Author/illustrator Isabelle Arsenault opens Maya’s Big Scene in the heart of the action: just as the kids are about to start yet another rehearsal. Cleverly combining art forms—large and colorful spreads common to the picture book format with speech bubbles and panels from comics—this book dives into the children’s interactions and excitement from different perspectives. Dialogue, facial expressions and action sequences work together to create a cinematic, real-life effect. As Maya’s character starts to develop Queen-like authoritarian behavior, so does her image. It’s also accompanied by boldly-coloured speech bubbles that overlap everyone else’s. Splashes of bright red, pink, and magenta are used to highlight the intensity of the friends’ emotions, and to depict the imaginative aspects of Maya’s developing “queendom.”

Underneath the comic representation of childish play lies an important reflection about respect, power dynamics, and collaboration. The bright pink tone parodies the stereotype of femininity, with a strong protagonist that seems designed to question what female power is all about. Meanwhile, the other girl subjects ask for peace, respect, freedom, and equality from a Queen who is clearly not putting these values into practice. Wordless spreads enhance the climax when Maya embodies royalty, but also as she humbly recognizes she has made a mistake. This is beautifully portrayed in Arsenault’s tender representation of the girl putting down her crown, and the loud celebration of equality and freedom for all, as they become regular kids and friends again.

The lively, humorous, and thought-provoking tale is Isabelle Arsenault’s third book in the Mile End Kids series, inspired by Montreal’s iconic artistic neighbourhood (where Arsenault herself has lived). It is a companion to Albert’s Quiet Quest and Colette’s Lost Pet.

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picturebooks and eating chocolate while pursuing her MA in Children’s Literature at UBC.

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