cover image Celia and the Sweet, Sweet Water

Celia and the Sweet, Sweet Water

Katherine Paterson. Clarion Books, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-91324-6

Compassion is the key to this compelling fairy tale, with its heroine's quest showing glimmers of the one in Paterson's recent novel Parzival. When Celia was an infant, a ""terrible war"" left the girl fatherless and drove her mother from the home in which she grew up. Now Celia's mother is ill and requests ""the sweet, sweet water of my childhood"" to heal her. The heroine, knowing nothing of her destination, sets out to grant her mother's wish with her grumbling dog, Brumble. Several challenges stand in her path, including a ""mad man of the mountain,"" whom she soothes with music, and a ""wretched woman"" of the water, whom she befriends by asking, ""Why are you so wretched?"" (the allusion to the Fisher King cannot be overlooked). Celia completes her mission, but Paterson gives it a surprising twist, letting readers know the girl possessed the antidote all along. Paterson cleverly employs Brumble to give voice to the passive choice that Celia ignores as she soldiers on. Vagin (who teamed up with Paterson for The King's Equal) expertly navigates the thin line between the allegorical nature of the quest and the real world, where its roots are firmly planted. His wretched woman weeps in green haze and shadow under a willow tree, as even the surrounding birches bend in sorrow; yet Celia shines, cloaked in red, as a child readers would recognize as a friend or neighbor of their own. Readers may take a leap of fancy here, but author and artist supply them with many familiar guideposts along the way. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)