cover image The Gift

The Gift

Carol Ann Duffy, illus. Rob Ryan, Barefoot, $16.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-84686-355-4

Newcomer Ryan's joyous, intricate paper cutouts soften U.K. poet laureate Duffy's (The Princess's Blankets) story, which follows a girl through a life well lived until her death. A girl finds a sunny clearing and realizes—her thought "as urgent and vivid as a butterfly opening its orange wings"—that she would like to be buried there. A mysterious old woman appears, promises to grant her wish, and vanishes. As the girl grows older, she tends the clearing, paints pictures, brings her children there to play, and arrives at last at the end of her life. She dreams of entering the clearing again—and now she is the old woman, and a girl awaits (possibly her younger self). Ryan's monochromatic cutouts of the clearing and the town are punched all over with showers of stars, flower petals, leaves, and snowflakes, giving the silhouetted spreads an airy feeling of light and plenty. Despite the jewellike palette and language ("snow whirled and shredded itself around the house"), make no mistake: Duffy's tale looks mortality right in the eye; without Ryan's work, it would be harder to bear. Ages 8–up. (Nov.)