cover image When Ruby Tried to Grow Candy

When Ruby Tried to Grow Candy

Valorie Fisher, . . Random/Schwartz & Wade, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-375-84015-9

When Ruby retrieves her ball from an eccentric neighbor’s yard, she meets the blustery Miss Wysterious, who barks such expletives as “Jumping jelly beans!” and “Blazing butterscotch!” With Mary Poppins snappishness, the mysterious Wysterious hands Ruby some jelly beans and instructs her to plant them, over the course of some weeks dishing out gardening advice: “Buttons must be picked early, unless you need them the size of frying pans! And remember, with shoes always plant a pair.” In fact, a tree in the woman’s yard drips with buttons, another with all-left shoes, etc. Even more fantastical than the plot, Fisher’s (Ellsworth’s Extraordinary Electric Ears ) mixed-media art belongs to the love-it-or-hate-it genus. Flat, cut-paper images—of the cartooned characters, highly patterned foliage, trees and more, all rendered in different styles—stand up within intricately composed sets, amid three-dimensional candies, miniature gardening tools and other props. The complexity of each assemblage commands admiration. However, not everything emerges successfully from this mélange: background images blur, sometimes almost past recognition. The alternate universe Ruby discovers is hazily developed also. To Ruby’s surprised delight, peppermints and gumdrops blossom forth. What can readers take away? Gather ye peppermint rosebuds? Blossom wherever you’re planted? Or, as Miss Wysterious says, “If you’re in doubt, nothing will sprout”–in other words, believe and magical things will happen, a nebulous and familiar message that gets a literal interpretation here. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)