Classic Review: Smile!

On Friday I posted about authors I feel like I’ve met–but there is one other author that’s true about too, in a very different way.  Geraldine McCaughrean wrote one of my all-time favorites, The White Darkness, as well as the rare excellent sequel to a class novel, Peter Pan in Scarlet.  She also wrote Smile! a book I reviewed long ago…but I didn’t share the story of how I ended up reading it.

I wrote a letter to McCaughrean telling her about how much I loved The White Darkness, and she wrote a wonderful letter back.  It turns out that’s one of her favorites of her books and she loves when people write her about it.  I mentioned my review of the book and she checked it out, finding also my rather rhapsodic comments on Richard Morant as the voice of Titus.  So along with a letter, McCaughrean sent me a cassette tape of the audiobook of Smile! which was also read by Morant.

McCaughrean has ever since been on my list of coolest authors ever!  I still haven’t met her, but I’d love to, and I almost feel like I have, in a way.

Smile! turned out to be delightful too…as I reviewed some time ago.


How often do you really think about a photograph?  You’ll look at photos in a whole new way if you read Smile! by Geraldine McCaughrean–or, as I did, listen to the audiobook.

Smile! is about Flash, a photographer whose small plane crashes in a remote area.  He manages to save only one camera–a simple Polaroid, with ten shots.  Flash is taken in by a primitive village, which has rarely had contact with the outside world.  As he speaks to the villagers, he realizes that none of them have ever seen a photograph.  Accepted by the villagers as “the magician who fell from the sky,” Flash must decide what to spend his ten photographs on–what sights will he preserve for the villagers?

Flash comes to love the villagers, and it’s not hard to relate to that feeling.  There are Sutira and her brother Olu, two children who adopt Flash.  And there’s “the old, old man,” the village elder who helps Flash decide what pictures to take–and what shouldn’t be photographed.

Seeing the photographs through the villagers’ eyes is fascinating.  All of us, with our digital cameras and our Google image searches, are so used to the idea of photographs.  But through the eyes of the villagers and through McCaughrean’s gorgeous prose, a photo becomes something magical–a moment in time, frozen and preserved.  Through photos, “the dead can still smile in the land of the living.”  A little boy is ten years old forever.  When the village goes through hungry times, they can look on the feast in their past.  In sad times, the image of their joyful dance.

The book is about photos, and about Flash, as he learns from the villagers–about beauty, about memory, and about what’s really valuable.  It’s a simple, fairly short, and lovely book.

McCaughrean’s writing is beautiful, and I’m sure it was enhanced in the audiobook (available on iTunes) by the reader.  I was thrilled to discover this was read by Richard Morant.  He was the voice of Titus Oates in the audiobook for another of McCaughrean’s novels, The White Darkness.  I won’t wax on again–I’ve done it before–but suffice to say he has a beautiful voice.

This book is listed as a children’s book, and in its simplicity, perhaps it is one.  But it’s another wonderful example of a children’s book with depth, with meaning, and which can be read on so many levels.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
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I couldn’t find others!  Any you’d like to share?

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