cover image Popcorn at the Palace

Popcorn at the Palace

Emily Arnold McCully. Harcourt Children's Books, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-15-277699-2

As in Mirette on the High Wire and The Ballot Box Battle, a little-known bit of history serves as inspiration for McCully's latest picture book adventure featuring a likable, spirited girl. Young Maisie Ferris would much rather read about the British royal family and play with her doll, Victoria, than take part in the prairie games that satisfy the other kids in Galesburg, Ill. Likewise, Maisie's pioneering parents grow mustard and canary seed instead of planting ordinary crops and raising hogs like the other folks in town. When an English journalist happens upon Galesburg, Maisie suggests that Dad demonstrate the wonders of their prize crop, popcorn. Their amazing ""corn that turns to snow"" earns the Ferrises a special visit to the Queen of England. Set in 1837 Illinois, McCully's tale embraces the brave, inventive spirit of American pioneers. She once again introduces a spunky heroine who cleverly swims through a sea of social change as an enthusiastic participant. Lush watercolor landscapes of Midwest farmland and the English countryside set the stage for an array of characters, who don period garb from simple bonnets to regal finery. Kerosene lamps, wandering chickens and hogs and horse-drawn carriages complete the accurate scenery. Young readers will also enjoy McCully's note explaining her personal connection to Galesburg. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)