by Linda Ravin Lodding
illustrated by Alison Jay
Every once in awhile (all too rarely, it seems) a new children's book comes along that has the feel of a classic, and this is one of them. Not only do the beautifully colored illustrations have an old feel to them (due to the artist's method of using alkyd paint covered with crackle varnish), but the story itself, with the author's use of famous artists, musicians, writers and nobility as side characters, appeals to the senses of a child even as it brings a smile to their faces with the sweetness of a little boy, on a mission to get the perfect gift for his mama's birthday.
As morning bells ring out over Vienna, Oskar sets out with only a single coin. He sees beauty everywhere, but decides rather quickly to purchase a beautiful yellow rose, only he is not the only one captured by its' beauty; the artist, Gustav Klimt (although we do not find out who exactly he is until a note from the author at the end of the book), decides he must include it in his next painting, and so Oskar trades the rose for a beautiful horsehair paintbrush.
As Oskar attempts over and over to make his way home with a gift for Mama, he is continually stopped by people with need, or who are simply captured by his traded gifts. We encounter Felix Salten (Bambi), Johann Strauss II, and the Empress Sisi, all who are touched in some way by Oskar's willingness to share his gifts. And when he finally reaches his mama at the door, what he has ended up with as a gift for her is really the perfect one anyway.
*Funny aside: I have to tell you, at one point Oskar has traded for a book (from Felix Salten), but when a carriage carrying the Empress Sisi is trapped in some mud, the coachman grabs the book from Oskar and tosses it under the wheel to give it some traction. This action elicited an audible gasp of dismay from the three of us reading along, and Gideon said, "Use your own book!", and Eliana countered with, "No! Never throw a book on the ground!" ~smile~
The author has actually lived in Vienna, and her love for the beautiful city is evident as she ponders her own memories of strolling under the arches of the Hofburg Palace, passing the Opera house, and lingering in front of Demel's coffeehouse, all of which contributed to this story that brings to life a little boy, "darting through the old town, encountering the famous nineteenth-century artists, musicians, writers and nobility."
The work of Alison Jay has been long-adored by the Hooper family; a favorite that she both wrote and illustrated is a wordless story about the sea titled Out of the Blue. Her signature use of crackle varnishing is a pleasant accompaniment to the comical story, and the border pictures are always a favorite around here.
I hope your library has this new (but old-feeling) favorite! Happy reading!