Thursday, January 03, 2008


THE JEWEL BOX BALLERINAS by Monique De Varennes, illustrated by Ana Juan (Schwartz & Wade)
When the wealthy Bibi Branchflower encounters a jewel box with two frowning ballerinas inside, she is so enthralled, a perfect addition to her collection of things in pairs! She buys it, ignoring the merchant's warnings: a sorcerer from long ago planted a curse upon the box after having the valuable gift shunned by his two spoiled nieces. "Piffle!" Ms. Branchflower exclaims, but soon finds herself affected by the sorrowful stares of the dancers. What could be a better cure than a little trip around the world? With Auntie Mame-like fortitude and a few hard knocks, Branchflower manages to add a precious pair of friends to her collection of twos. Ana Juan has done some pretty marvelous illustrations in the past (see her treatment of Kelly Cunnane's FOR YOU ARE A KENYAN CHILD), and finally she has a solid narrative storyline that really capitalizes on her broad-faced characterizations, super-saturated, bold palette and double-paged spreads full of clever detail. Children will adore Bibi Branchflower's smiling pair of pugs (gotta love them dressed in parkas and tucked under a heavy blanket as their mistress flies across the tundra on a sled), and listeners will gasp as the two ballerinas are accidentally misplaced amidst the hustle and bustle of an African marketplace. The endpapers of Bibi's collection of dynamic duos already has more eye candy than the whole of an average picture book, and the moral that people who are dear to us are worth more than money is earned through the adventures our eccentric heroine. A perfect example of an author and an illustrator each adding their own strengths to the whole, this is an exciting, original and well-told modern fairy tale illustrated with humor and beauty, and if prizes went to books that kids really enjoy, this title would assuredly be an award-winner. Buy two: one for you and one for a friend. (5 and up)

Also of interest:
Bibi Branchflower isn't the only one who likes things in pairs!
ONE OF EACH by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Marjorie Priceman (Little, Brown) Told in perfectly metered couplets, a clever cat teaches a stubborn canine that everything is twice as nice when shared with a friend. Jaunty, colorful illustrations make this a jubilant choice for early childhood storytimes. (4 and up)

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