January 10, 2013

(+++) ADVENTURES IN STRANGE LANDS


Little Bo in London: The Ultimate Adventure of Bonnie Boadicea. By Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton. Illustrated by Henry Cole. Harper. $19.99.

The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe. By Pat Mora. Illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher. Knopf. $16.99.

      There is not necessarily anything especially exotic about England and Mexico, the countries where these books are set, but the strange and surprising things that happen to the characters make both the nations seem wondrous indeed. Little Bo in London is the fourth and final tale of the adventures of a very small cat with the improbable name of Bonnie Boadicea – following Little Bo, Little Bo in France and Little Bo in Italy. The primary author is Julie Andrews Edwards – the actress better known simply as Julie Andrews – and the books, not surprisingly, have a fine sense of pacing and drama (Emma Walton Hamilton is Julie Andrews Edwards’ daughter).  The story picks up after the human and feline protagonists have left Italy aboard the yacht Legend and are enjoying a cruise through the Mediterranean.  Suddenly, the yacht is attacked by pirates, who are foiled thanks to Bo and her friend, Panache.  The result of this adventure is that the cruise is cut short and everyone returns to England, where a still-greater adventure awaits: an audience with no less than the Queen.  But while the humans of the story are taking tea with Her Majesty, Bo and Panache are stuck up a tree, having been chased by four dogs on the palace grounds.  The cats are rescued, of course, and Bo has an unexpected reunion with her brother, Maximillian, and later an even more unexpected one with her parents. “Isn’t life amazing?” asks Bo after all the commotion dies down – and of course it is in these books, for cats and their human companions alike.  The writing keeps the story moving smartly along, although the illustrations by Henry Cole are more of an acquired taste: it is not quite clear whether they are intended to be fully realistic or have something of a fantasy flavor. They are certainly nicely done, in any case.

      The illustrations for The Beautiful Lady are a big part of the charm of this retelling of the legend of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to a poor farmer in Mexico in 1531 and was canonized in 2002.  Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher do a fine job of showing what the story is all about, creating reverential illustrations that nevertheless convey real-world presence and a sense that real human beings are at the heart of this tale of a 16th-century miracle.  Pat Mora tells the tale straightforwardly, with a child of today hearing from her grandmother how a man named Juan Diego was walking to church one day when he saw a beautiful, shining lady who asked him to go to the bishop and arrange for a hilltop church to be built. Juan Diego tried, but as a poor man without influence, he was not believed – and told the lady so when she appeared to him again. Eventually, as the bishop continued insisting on some sort of proof, the lady provided it in two forms: flowers out of season, and her own picture on Juan Diego’s cloak, where it can still be seen today.  This is a simple, lovely story with great meaning for New World Catholics; it also has a sort of fairy-tale atmosphere that will appeal to families with different beliefs.  Certainly its gentleness and its notion of someone holy appearing to somebody humble rather than to a person with higher worldly standing will resonate with people of many religions and belief systems, and even with those who do not adhere to any organized religion at all.

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