cover image Seven for a Secret

Seven for a Secret

Laurence Anholt, , illus. by Jim Coplestone. . Frances Lincoln, $15.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-1-84507-300-8

This poignant tale unfolds through letters exchanged between Ruby, who lives with her struggling parents in their high-rise city apartment, and Grampa, alone in the country with a magpie family nesting in a hollow tree outside his window. Ruby's handwritten letters appear on the left; Grampa's typewritten epistles on the right. In his first letter to her, Grampa gives Ruby "The Magpie Song": "1 for Sorrow,/ 2 for Joy,/ 3 for a Girl,/ 4 for a Boy,/ 5 for Silver,/ 6 for Gold,/ 7 for a Secret/ never to be told." Throughout their correspondence, they allude to the lyrics, attesting to their powerful long-distance connection. For example, Grampa writes, "There were four magpies this morning and I knew your brother was born." Anholt gracefully weaves in the details of their lives and the passage of time, including the financial difficulties of Ruby's parents and the health challenges facing her grandfather. Even if older readers can imagine what lies in store, they will still feel Ruby's grief when she sees a lone magpie on her urban balcony ("You promised to come. Did you send the magpie instead?"). Coplestone's charcoal and watercolor wash artwork resembles Bob Graham's illustrations in their warmth and their ability to capture urban and domestic scenes with equal aplomb. He conveys both the beauty and trials of the two main characters; while Ruby and Grandpa experience disparate existences, a red sun shines in both city and country. In Grampa's hollow tree, Ruby discovers a final gift, leaving readers with an uplifting message that love lives on, even after our loved ones are gone. Ages 4-8. (May)