written by Megan Kelso
Artichoke Tales is set in a country split by internal conflict: The north is an industrialized, fish-eating culture while in the south, people gather plants and mushrooms and keep to a simpler, more traditional lifestyle. And they seem unable to coexist in peace,.
Brigitte lives in the south and helps her grandmother, Charlotte, run the local apothecary. While gathering herbs one day, she meets Adam, a soldier from the north, who has been sent to Brigitte's town to repair a cannon. They hit it off, and when Adam leaves for the north, Brigitte wants to follow him. As often happens in this story, however, they both say the opposite of what they mean, and Adam goes without her. This gets the real story rolling, as Brigitte prepares to go north on her own but also asks Charlotte why the country is split in two. The story is picked up by other characters as the book goes on.
The causes of the war are a mix of bad attitudes and good intentions. The people of the north send canned fish to the south, but the high price of fish and the natives' resentment of interference in their culture causes riots that escalate to war. The country is presided over by a queen who spends a few weeks of her childhood with every family in the country, in an attempt to make her a child of the whole nation, but who is unable to keep the peace. And ultimately, it seems, it is the small human factors—boredom, a snub, even unpalatable food—that send things heading off in the wrong direction.
Charlotte, her daughter Ramona, and Ramona's daughter Brigitte each finds her place in this world. Charlotte lived in the north and married a northerner but returned to the south to live; Ramona rejects her mother's lifestyle and becomes a shrinekeeper, tending to the ancient traditions of her people; and Brigitte ultimately is reunited with Adam in the north.
Kelso's simple line and rounded forms belie the seriousness of the story. This is not a children's book. The characters are adults, and they relate to each other as adults, so the book includes several scenes of sex and of childbirth. There are also a number of deaths, both natural and violent (but not bloody), and when another queen is born, the elders decide they can't handle any more queens and sorrowfully put the infant to death, an act that is implied rather than shown but may still be upsetting to some readers.
All the characters have artichoke-shaped heads, which, unfortunately, makes them look very similar to one another Kelso does provide other markers, such as freckles and body shape, but it is not always easy to tell them apart.
Ultimately, Artichoke Tales is not so much a story about conflict as a story about the people reacting to the conflict, doing their best to live lives of integrity in a land of constant unrest. Although good intentions are often thwarted, it ends on a note of hope.-- Brigid Alverson