cover image The Malachite Palace

The Malachite Palace

Alma Flor Ada. Atheneum Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-31972-3

Gore's (The Pomegranate Seeds) acrylic and ink illustrations, spun like gossamer and lit with an inner radiance, lend their magic to a tale about a lonely princess. Confined to the castle and forbidden to play with the children outside the gates (whom the queen, the governess and the lady-in-waiting deem common), the princess is delighted when a little yellow bird flies in through the window, filling the palace with ""a light and joyful music."" After it is captured and placed in a cage, however, the little bird ceases to sing. Only when she sets it free, turning its cage into a bird feeder so that it and its friends may come and go at will, does it sing joyfully again. Seeing the bird's happiness inspires the princess to seek her own, and she ventures for the first time beyond the palace gates to play with the other children. Ada (Mediopollito) puts a bit of a fresh spin on the tired metaphor of the bird in the gilded cage by having the girl take responsibility for her own freedom. But it is Gore's airy, diaphanous illustrations that lift the tale above the sum of its parts. Studies in the refinements of light and texture, they appear overlaid with a delicate, filmy gauze, and their weightless elegance imbues the translucent green walls of the malachite palace and the sun-dappled interiors with a mysterious, ethereal beauty. Ages 4-8. (May)