cover image The Saracen Maid

The Saracen Maid

Leon Garfield. Simon & Schuster, $14 (26pp) ISBN 978-0-671-86646-4

With twinkling good humor and high spirits, Garfield tells of the unlikely romance of a forgetful Londoner and a courageous Saracen maid. Set ``in the year eleven hundred and something or other,'' this chapter book begins as sieve-headed Gilbert sails to the East (``Remember to come back home!'' his parents admonish him). But off the coast of Africa, Barbary pirates attack his ship and sell him to a greedy merchant who hopes for a large ransom from Gilbert's family. But the addle-pated Gilbert remembers neither his parents' names nor their address, and only the merchant's sympathetic daughter saves him from an ignominious end. The epic saga is jauntily told, its chipper dialogue interspersed with vivid prose (``the sailors were singing and swarming and swinging in a forest of masts'') as a tale of true love unfolds. Garfield's deadpan sensibility is shared by O'Brien's understated artwork: Gilbert's wide-eyed innocence is endearing, and the exotic Eastern locale deftly sketched. A picture of the Saracen maid, vainly commanding her bedroom carpet to take her to London (``Alas! Her father must have told it not to fly''), wryly captures the flavorsome wit of the text. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)