Lotsa de Casha

Madonna, Author , illus. by Rui Paes. Callaway $19.95 (48p) ISBN 978-0-670-05888-4

In the fifth of Madonna's moral tales, the greyhound-headed merchant Lotsa de Casha discovers that hoarding brings misery, but giving brings joy. Like its predecessors, Madonna's artless fable is improved by the illustrations. Paes, a Portuguese artist, makes his children's book debut with this tongue-in-cheek homage to classic Baroque painting. His meticulously rendered foppish heroes, the greyhound merchant and his newfound friend, the bull-headed Mr. Forfilla, sport lace collars and high boots, and pose against Mediterranean landscapes dotted with terracotta rooftops and cypress groves. Passages of text often appear in gilded architectural frames, and trompe l'oeuil abounds. By contrast, the text unfolds simplistically: "Lotsa was by far the richest man in the country. He had everything that money could buy. But there was a teeny, tiny problem. No matter how much money Lotsa de Casha made, he wasn't happy." Through the calamity of piracy, and the kindness of Mr. Forfilla—whom he once snubbed—Lotsa de Casha learns his lesson. Meanwhile, subversively, Paes actually seems to celebrate the wealth Lotsa de Casha repudiates. The furniture the formerly rich Mr. Forfilla donates to the poor is lovingly painted, and even Lotsa's underwear is elegantly tailored. However, Lotsa's lowbrow accent is not only grating ("Now I have alla da money a man could want, but still I'ma not happy"), it seems uncharacteristic of a rich gentleman. Despite the mismatch, this is a sumptuous visual treat. Ages 8-up. (June)

Reviewed on: 06/27/2005
Release date: 06/01/2005
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