cover image Nobody Rides the Unicorn

Nobody Rides the Unicorn

Adrian Mitchell. Arthur A. Levine Books, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-439-11204-8

Impressionistic artwork creates a dreamy, surreal backdrop for this story of an orphan girl who beguiles a unicorn. The king of Joppardy learns from Doctor Slythe that he must obtain the horn of a unicorn in order to protect him from harm. The two deceptively persuade a waif named Zoe--""nobody's child""--to lure a unicorn with her gentle voice, but when she learns of the king's plans, she sets the unicorn free and is banished from the kingdom. She then makes her way to the ""secret valley of the unicorns,"" where her kindness is rewarded. Though Mitchell's (Maudie and the Green Children) prose is pedestrian in places, particularly Zoe's song to the unicorn (""His mind is peaceful as the grass./ He is the loveliest one of all/ And he lives behind the waterfall""), it also contains flashes of pure poetry (""The air was torn by trumpets,"" signals the legendary beast's capture). It's Lambert's (Bedtime) otherworldly illustrations that lift the book to a higher level. His sophisticated use of mist-filtered light and shadow, and his seamless blend of old-world elegance and hints of modern life, make this a cautionary tale with a sense of immediacy (a red car winds its way up to a medieval castle; the heroine and king wear contemporary clothing). Mysterious visual themes are interwoven; a giraffe and a boatman with four geese make intermittent appearances. The enigmatic, lush imagery will haunt readers long after the somewhat forgettable story has ended. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)