The Secret-Keeper

Kate Coombs, Author, Heather M. Solomon, Illustrator
Kate Coombs, Author, Heather M. Solomon, Illustrator , illus. by Heather M. Solomon. S&S/Atheneum $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-689-83963-4
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In an intriguing premise from newcomer Coombs,Kalli is the village's secret-keeper. "I sell loaves weighing less than full measure," the village baker confesses to Kalli. "I've made a bad match," the marriage-maker confides. In Kalli's magic hands, the secrets turn into tiny objects, rocks and charms, which she stores in hundreds of drawers that line the walls of her thatched hut. The villagers aren't evil—they just need to lighten their loads. At last, though, their cumulative burden makes Kalli ill, and the villagers at her bedside discover that she needs to hear some good secrets, too. "I'm going to be a painter when I grow up," says a boy, and his secret turns into a blue butterfly. The gentle potter's son has a secret, too: " 'I love the secret-keeper," he confesses, causing joy and merriment in the village. Solomon's (Clever Beatrice ) gouaches conjure up a classic fairy-tale setting, with half-timbered buildings and craftsmen sporting blouses and smocks. Yet she also introduces post-modern elements in the quietest, most judicious places; readers can detect scanned digital images of woodgrain and flower petals beneath the forest-colored gouache. In the same way, Coombs introduces 21st-century self-reflection into her otherwise traditional tale. Her characters do not need to be punished in order to reform—no asses' ears or red-hot shoes for them. Just the knowledge that their misdeeds have made a fellow creature suffer is enough to inspire an antidote. Ages 4-8. (June)

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