cover image Westward Ho, Carlotta!

Westward Ho, Carlotta!

Candace Fleming. Atheneum Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81063-3

When readers of this giddy frontier spoof first meet opera singer Carlotta Carusa, she's bending over an orchestra pit awash with the bucketsful of tears shed by her audience. But the diva pines for a change of scenery from the same old opera houses, so she hops on a stagecoach bound for Deadeye, N.D. There, she blithely ends a drought with an aria from Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood, converts an outlaw gang to Puccini and rides off into the sunset. Fleming (Gabriella's Song) maintains a deadpan tone and includes plenty of Yosemite Sam-isms like ""Ripsnortin' rattlesnakes!"" Swaggering villains speak in hard-boiled clich s (""Don't play dumb with me, songbird"") as they grimly ""face the music"" and succumb to Carlotta's perfect pitch. Anticipating nitpickers, the author includes a disclaimer: all three musical selections cited are 20th-century pieces, but how else could Carlotta belt Girl of the Golden West in a showdown? Catrow (She's Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head!) heightens the comedy with zany watercolors. Amid the dirty-yellow dust, the stout soprano sports a teensy hat, spotless white gloves and a form-fitting dress striped with violet and raspberry-red. When she sings, her mouth opens like a lion's maw, far-off buttes bounce as if in an earthquake and folks stare in amazement. The snappy dialogue and hyperbolic illustrations enthusiastically satirize and salute the western genre. Ages 3-8. (May)