The Most Important Gift of All

David Conway, Author, Karin Littlewood, Illustrator , illus. by Karin Littlewood. Gingham Dog $15.95 (26p) ISBN 978-0-7696-4618-3

Littlewood's (The Color of Home ) gorgeous, realistic watercolor-and-gouache renderings of life on the African plains steal the spotlight for this tale of a girl's search for love. Young Ama wants to give her new baby brother a gift, just like all the visitors from the village. "Give him love," Grandma Sisi tells Ama, "That is the most important gift of all." So the girl sets out to find love in the great valley bordering her village. A weaverbird and a giraffe aren't much help, but an ancient lion has some sage advice: "As sure as the rain comes, you will always know love when you have found it." Ama spends the night under a baobab tree. The next morning, her father finds her and takes her home for a joyous celebration. Grandma's words to Ama do not seem the kind to trigger a quest, and the ending may leave readers wondering whether Ama has yet connected the word "love" with the act of loving. But Littlewood's pictures soar. She covers the pages with exuberant brushstrokes and patches of sheer, radiant hues. Her cinematic sense of composition results in some stunning spreads, especially the nighttime scene of the girl slumbering, which conveys a sense of safety even in this alien situation. The pictures feel both intimate and reassuring while capturing the daunting sweep of the African landscape. Ages 2-5. (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 04/03/2006
Release date: 03/01/2006
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