Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy

Summer in Kansas.  It isn't my favorite time of year, not by a long shot.  I become a lethargic, whiny baby in sticky hot weather.  This summer, much like last year's, hasn't been so bad.  July was one of the mildest on record.  However, it is now late August, and I am over it.  One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite Maria McKee songs is "She don't sweat, she sours and melts like ice cream in the sun."  That's me.  I am rancid, runny ice cream.

So I park myself next to a fan and I read.  And if I can read about cold weather in some faraway place, well...  that's even better, right?

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy
by Karen Foxlee.
Knopf Books for Young Readers,

Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy is a lovely book, with illustrations by Yoko Tanaka.  A girl named Ophelia goes with her older sister, Alice, and their father to stay in a very snowy town over Christmas break.  The girls' mother died three months ago, and the three are grieving in their own ways.  The father is an expert on swords, and is hired by a stately museum to help prepare a grand exhibit for Christmas Eve.  Alice, who promised her mother to help look after Ophelia, is depressed and lethargic, uninterested in everything around her.

Endpaper love.

One day, Ophelia comes across a painting, "The Marvelous Boy."  A door is next to the artwork.  Not quite knowing why she does it, Ophelia peers through the keyhole.  An eye is looking back at her.  The owner of the eye claims to be the boy in the painting, and boy without a name, who needs Ophelia's help to locate a sword and "The Other One," the person who can wield the sword to help the boy defeat the evil Snow Queen.

Ophelia is a practical, scientifically-minded girl, who does not believe in magic or in things that cannot be proven.  Her mother, however, was a famous horror writer, who loved stories about ghosts and castles and vampires. Ophelia finds herself on a quest, the voice of her mother whispering in her ear, helping her along.

Ophelia is sent on various errands, running into obstacles she cannot explain.  Her father is preoccupied with his work, and the director of the museum, the icy Miss Kaminski, frightens her, even as she takes a special interest in the grief-stricken Alice.

I could have waited until October and my month-long Halloween celebration to share this book. Mysterious, ominous clocks, ghost girls, frightening animals, mysteriously changing rooms...   It has just the right amount of thrills for a kids' book.

And as the Wintertide Clock counts down to Christmas Eve, I suppose I could have waited until December.

But this book is too good.  I needed to share it now.  I've told the girls about it, and they have placed it on our read-aloud list, but it may take us a bit to get to it.

For more, you can read the review from the New York Times Sunday Book Review.  I think her assessment gels with mine.  The book seems familiar at times, using common fairy tale and kid-lit devices, and it isn't perfect, but the whole product makes it a very worthy read.  Random House Kids has set up a nice subsite, with excerpts from the book.  I think I may have to check out more books by Karen Foxlee soon.

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Fierce: The Lion

Fierce: The Lion by Evaline Ness.
Holiday House, 1980.

Evaline Ness won the Caldecott Medal in 1967, and was a runner-up for each of the three previous years.  She illustrated more than thirty picture books, writing several of those herself.  She kept the last name of her second husband, the famous Eliot Ness.  Yet I admit, I was unfamiliar with her until recently. Her art is of another era, and of her many books, only the Caldecott-winning Sam, Bangs & Moonshine appears to be currently in print.  I've been checking her books out from the library as I can.  This book, Fierce: The Lion, is a later entry, and so far, it's my favorite.

It's the sweetly unbelievable story of a circus girl named Isobel and her pet lion.  She raises Fierce from a cub, and for a while, they are inseparable.  Fierce understands Isobel, but Isobel understands Fierce, too, even his lion-roars.

Alas, Fierce grows to his full size and after falling on little Isobel during a stunt, he must spend his free time in a cage.  He is let out to perform all the tricks Isobel has taught him, and becomes the most famous act in the circus, but the other animals and performers are jealous.  They hate Fierce.

One day, Fierce refuses to perform.  He know the other acts hate him.  He starts to cry, which angers his trainer.

Fierce tells Isobel he hates his job.  He tells her that the only thing he would love to do is "give little tots rides on my back, but stupid llamas and adorable ponies are given first choice, always."  Isobel sets out to see what she can do.  Fierce doesn't see her for a few days, and spends his time complaining in his cage.  Isobel and her parents ask the Owner of the Circus where Fierce might find such a job.  The Owner asks the Head of the Zoo.  Isobel steps in.  "This lion we're discussing happens to be a friend of mine...  All he wants is love, and little kids are the ones who can give him what he wants.  I know."

So, Fierce moves to the zoo, where he gives rides to long lines of children.  And there, he lives happily ever after.

Because I know I'd happily let my children ride on a lion's back.  Yup.

Not really.  

But it's a cute story.  Beautiful pictures, yes?

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