Alison Lester is one of Australia's most popular children's authors and illustrators. She began illustrating children's books after she had her first child, and today has illustrated more than 25 books for children. Alison has won several awards for her writing and illustrating, including the 1989 CBC Honour Book Award for The Journey Home, and Best Designed Children's Book for Rosie Sips Spiders. When Frank Was Four reached number one in the bestseller list and was also a CBC Notable Book. Alison lives on a farmlet in rural Victoria with her husband and their three children.
A grandmother's mysterious past provides the impetus for Lester's latest offering. Anna and Luis love sleeping in Isabella's bed whenever they visit their grandmother; the silver headboard ornaments intrigue them, as do the souvenirs from Grandmother's younger days in South America. But their questions awaken ``too many memories'' for Grandmother. With a goodly supply of visual clues, the reader joins the children on a dream journey through the landscape of Grandmother's sad song, about a woman who lost her heart when her husband ``drowned in the wild Crooked River.'' In fetching dreamscapes rendered in impressionistic brush strokes and intricate detailing, the children discover how each of the bed's ornaments fits into the past. But the somber undertone of Isabella's song never carries over into the nocturnal romp, nor is the voyage as engaging as Lester's Ruby or The Journey Home. Distancing rather than immersing the reader, this excursion feels contrived, and plods--a bit predictably--as the children check off significant sightings on their tour. That they are unable to infer anything preceding their dream (after all, their grandmother's name is Isabella) seems unbelievable. And although the dusty-toned paintings offer pleasing visual diversion, this somewhat muddled mystery tour lacks the magic of Lester's previous work. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
K-Gr 3-- Two children visit their grandmother and sleep in an attic room furnished with souvenirs from South America. Anna and Luis beg her to tell them about all of the objects found in the old sandalwood trunk at the foot of ``Isabella's bed.'' She will only say that these things belonged to a young woman whose heart was broken when her husband drowned long ago. That night the children dream of sailing away. They toss on wild ocean waves, roll over desert plains, drift on a high Andean lake. At last, they return to their grandmother's house, still clinging to the bed, and know that she is Isabella. Lester's paintings fill the right-hand pages, while additional drawings adorn the text on the left. All of Isabella's recuerdos, mementos, are pictured one by one without explanation. Young audiences are allowed to look at the beads, the folded ticket, and the smooth stones and wonder what tales of love and loss lie behind them. The children's little pointed noses poke curiously into everything. On the last page, the elderly woman hints that she will share her stories with them, but the past, for readers, remains mysterious and romantic. The delicately colored, pen-and-ink drawings are perfect illustrations of dreamy illusion. An enchanting fantasy. --Ruth Semrau, Lovejoy School, Allen, TX