Jooka Saves the Day

Gilles Eduar, Author
Gilles Eduar, Author Orchard Books (NY) $15.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-531-30036-7
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This eye-catching French import, a variation on ""The Ugly Duckling,"" concerns a young green lizard who turns out to be a dragon. One day Jooka floats downriver into crocodile territory and is accepted there. Yet Jooka doesn't quite fit in. After he scares his peers by sneezing flames and growing a pair of wings, he sets off on a solo quest for self-understanding. As luck would have it, he encounters a wise old pelican who teaches him to accept his dragon-ness: ""The differences are gifts. Your gifts, Jooka.... You must learn to use them."" He does, and returns to his crocodile friends just in time to rescue them from poachers. The text may have lost something in the translation from French; it falls flat compared with the gorgeous, layered illustrations. The book's driving force lies in the exquisitely colored, Matisse-style double-page spreads of drooping ferns and palm fronds and the episodic vignettes, such as a triptych of Jooka flying a crocodile to safety. Assured and sophisticated, Eduar's idyllic art ushers the reader into Jooka's tropical home and, even with an underserved text, the views cannot be refused. Ages 4-7. (Sept.)
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