cover image Poppy's Puppet

Poppy's Puppet

Patricia Lee Gauch. Henry Holt & Company, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5291-6

Christiana's (The Tale I Told Sasha) fey, diaphanous watercolors flow through Gauch's (Dance, Tanya) allegorical story like light through water. Poppy the toymaker has a knack for making marvelous toys out of the odd bit of wood, and his gift for ""listening"" to the wood eventually prompts him to turn his maple dog Toby into a marionette, thus launching a new career. As Poppy's band of marionettes expands, he ""always listened to the wood, and he always discovered who and what each marionette wanted to be."" One day he doesn't listen, however, and determines to make a ballerina from a piece of teakwood. Clarinda is a beauty, but she's a miserable failure as a ballerina. Only when Poppy remembers to listen again does he discover her talent for tightrope dancing, which quickly becomes the highlight of the marionette show. If the theme seems a bit contrived, the prose is lucid and eloquent, and it gains a measure of mystery and magic from the ethereal illustrations. In one of his most approachable works yet, Christiana paints a cast of appealingly elfin characters. All knobbly wood and strings, the puppets' faces are marvelously expressive, their attitudes deftly conveyed, from the forlorn droop of Clarinda's head after her disastrous debut to the perky tilt of Toby's jointed tail. As always with Christiana, there are surprises--tiny fairy puppets who lurk in shadowy corners, a leafless branch found serving as a curtain rod over Poppy's window. A sugarplum of a book. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)