cover image Top Banana

Top Banana

Cari Best. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-531-30009-1

Siblings or pets routinely compete to be ""top banana""; the rivals in this tale, however, are far from the usual suspects. Benny is a parrot whose middle-aged owner, Flora, dotes on him. He feels uniquely beautiful--that is, until Flora introduces Scarlett O'Hara, a delicate orchid. Next to Scarlett's ""flaming red blooms, yellow spots, blue stripes, and frilly fringes,"" Benny doesn't feel very exotic. But when Scarlett starts to wilt, so does Benny's jealousy. The bird ultimately rescues his petalled nemesis by building her a tropical greenhouse. Benny's forest-green plumage and yellow beak stand out against a rose, peach and purple whirl of watercolor and colored pencil. Best (Taxi! Taxi!) writes good-humoredly, with judicious doses of alliteration: The eager-to-please Benny ""fanned [Flora} when she was faint. He helped fertilize her ferns. He fluted the edges of her fruit pies."" Yet while she establishes Benny as a vibrant character, Scarlett never blossoms as a viable personality. Debut artist Oller's low-contrast palette, while pleasing to the eye, does Scarlett a similar disservice, as the flower's supposedly traffic-stopping good looks do not stand out in any particular way. The chief interest in the illustrations comes from the stylized figures, especially the potato-sack-shaped Flora, and the sense of motion Oller so robustly invests them with. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)