April 05, 2007


The Flying Bed. By Nancy Willard. Paintings by John Thompson. Blue Sky Press/Scholastic. $16.99.

Terrible Storm. By Carol Otis Hurst. Pictures by S.D. Schindler. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

      A touching and beautiful story with truly gorgeous illustrations, The Flying Bed has its roots in the real world of Florence, Italy, but its heart – and an important part of its action – in the clouds. Brimming with magic and overflowing with warmth, this is one of those tales that could not possibly be true, but that young readers (and their parents) will wish could really happen. And John Thompson’s hyper-realistic paintings of impossible events will make readers think that maybe, just maybe, it could happen, somehow and somewhere and somewhen. Nancy Willard’s story is kept just on this side of possibility (ah, but which side?) by the way she tells it and by a conclusion in which she asserts that she has actually been to the place where everything occurred. That place is a small bakery on the street of St. Agostino, where a man named Francesco the Joyful used to make the most wonderful cheesecake, raisin bread and other delights that anyone had ever tasted. But his son, Guido, who now runs the bakery, lacks the father’s skill, and the shop does so poorly that Guido must sell the furniture, piece by piece – until even the bed is gone. Guido’s wife, Maria, demands a bed to sleep in, and Guido walks the so-realistic streets of Florence until he comes to a shop that just may be in the city somewhere, where he gets a bed for nothing because (and this seems maybe, perhaps, believable) the piece of furniture chooses him. And so begins a series of adventures that bring Guido and Maria joy and the bake shop success, until Guido – newly rich and newly miserly – becomes a little too greedy and loses everything. Yet the bed has a final surprise in store for the couple, producing a happy ending that allows Guido and Maria’s three daughters to be running the bakery now and producing wonderful edibles “from their hands and not from magic.” But perhaps there is still a touch of magic on the street of St. Agostino, Willard suggests. And perhaps there is, if you can find the right shop. If not, you can read about it again and again – and dream wonderful dreams.

      Severe winter storms are the stuff of nightmare, not dream, for people caught in them, but Carol Otis Hurst finds the light side of a heavy snowfall in Terrible Storm, and tells the tale so entertainingly that she will leave you eager for more (story, that is; not necessarily snow). Like The Flying Bed, Hurst’s Terrible Storm is said to be a tale that happened in the past, but not too far in the past – in 1888. That was an infamous year for weather, for it was the year of a great March blizzard that struck without warning. The real-world storm was terrible enough, but Hurst – assisted by entertaining, true-to-the-period watercolor art by S.D. Schindler – turns it into a funny story by having two grandfathers reminisce about what they were doing on that day. One was delivering milk, the other piling wood into his cart, when the storm hit. They needed to get themselves and their horses to safety, and the only way to do so, it turned out, was to do what each disliked the most. Grandpa Otis (Walt) loved to be around people, but was forced to take cover in a barn and stay there, alone, for three days, until the snow stopped and he could dig himself out. And Grandpa Clark (Fred), who was always shy and liked to be by himself, ended up at the house of a large family, where he was taken in for three days and had to spend every single minute with lots of other people (including sleeping four to a bed). The stories, told in parallel panels, finally join as the two men dig themselves paths through the snow and meet each other amid the deep drifts – and the book ends back in the present, with the two grandfathers agreeing that the Blizzard of 1888 was the worst storm ever…but for completely opposite reasons. All in all, it’s a warm tale of a mighty cold time.

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