cover image Elena


Diane Stanley. Hyperion Books, $13.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0256-2

Author and illustrator of numerous acclaimed picture-book biographies (Cleopatra; The Bard of Avon), Stanley turns her talents to preserving a more personal history, the experiences of a friend of her grandmother's. The sheltered daughter of a prosperous Mexican family, Elena has aspirations higher than those of her four sisters. While they concentrate on singing and embroidery, Elena studies secretly with a priest and learns to love books and ""master the magic of numbers."" Later, she refuses her father's attempts to marry her to a landowner's son and is finally given permission to marry her true love. Years later, during the Mexican Revolution, her determination stands her in good stead; widowed, she and her children escape from their beloved but pitifully ravaged country to carve a new life in California. Stanley's spare, graceful prose shapes a credible portrait of a person of singular insight and courage. Given the narrative's dearth of young characters and solitary focus on a grown woman, mature young adults and adults rather than middle-graders will be the most appreciative audience for this book. The format, however, may be problematic: the brevity of the text, printed in large type on small pages, could leave bookstore browsers wondering whether they're getting enough book for the buck. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)