cover image Serefina Under the Circumstances

Serefina Under the Circumstances

Phyllis Theroux. Greenwillow Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-688-15942-9

A girl's penchant for embellishing tales risks landing her in hot water in this zippy picture book. Serefina and her grandmother enjoy trading catchy phrases like ""I'm counting on you,"" (""Up to one million,"" is Serefina's response) and ""I'm locking my lips and throwing away the key"" (""Don't go looking for that key in the bushes later on,"" comes Grandma's rejoinder). But when Grandma asks Serefina to keep a secret, it grows bigger and bigger inside her, from a ""sprout"" to something gigantic, ""with branches through every window and with roots snaking down staircases."" Before long, Serefina blabs, and then concocts a tale to justify herself. In her picture book debut, Theroux's quirky, compelling text invites young readers to explore the fine line between being creative and actually lying. The prose mostly seems the incarnation of Serefina's own high spirits, but sometimes goes to excess with its interest in metaphor (a message in a dream ""was warm and light and floated like a golden leaf upon the waters of her dreaming""). Gleefully following Theroux's lead, Priceman (Emeline at the Circus) interprets Serefina's thoughts literally: an illustration accompanying the phrase ""Buster was beside himself"" features a side-by-side cloned image of a boy; ""refresh my memory"" becomes a person's head floating in a refreshing glass of iced tea; and during the school spelling bee, Serefina sprouts antennae and a yellow-and-brown-striped body. Priceman's exuberant lines and fantastic imagery make this a high-flying journey. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)