December 05, 2013


The Snow Queen. By Hans Christian Andersen. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Harper. $17.99.

Dot. By Randi Zuckerberg. Illustrated by Joe Berger. Harper. $17.99.

Pinkalicious Cupcake Cookbook. By Victoria Kann. Recipe development by Patti Paige. Photographs by Kristen Hess. Harper. $14.99.

     Gorgeous gouache illustrations by Bagram Ibatoulline are the immediate attraction in a new retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, one of his more-complex and in some respects more-puzzling fables. This is a rescue story, but not just a rescue story. It is a coming-of-age tale, but not just a coming-of-age tale. It is a love story, but not just a love story – and the kind of love story it tells is ambiguous. Like all of Andersen’s tales, this one is firmly grounded in his traditional Christian beliefs, although it is far less pushy in that regard than stories such as The Little Mermaid. The coming of evil into the world is what opens The Snow Queen – in a scene often omitted in modern adaptations but, thankfully, included here – but it is never quite clear whether the title character represents evil or is just an amoral force of nature, and whether she kidnaps the boy Kai because it is in her nature to do so or because she, in a twisted way, loves him (for she kisses him twice). Certainly, though, whatever love the Snow Queen may offer is a cold love, contrasted throughout with the warm (and entirely platonic) love of the girl Gerda for her playmate, a love that not only takes Gerda past multiple obstacles to the frozen wastes of Lapland but also results in Kai magically forming the word “eternity” from ice and thereby winning his freedom. Mystical and in some ways unsettling, The Snow Queen is far more than a children’s story, even though most versions of it – this one included – are intended for young readers. Ibatoulline’s atmospheric, brooding and dark-hued pictures relating to winter and the Snow Queen stand in beautiful contrast to his superb renditions of other characters, both human and nonhuman (the latter including a crow, a reindeer and many flowers). The portrayal of the robbers in the forest is particularly outstanding, and the twinkling eyes of the dark-haired robber girl set her in perfect contrast to the sad-but-determined ones of blonde-haired Gerda. Every page here is a delight, whether Ibatoulline is showing the Northern Lights in all their brilliance (with a small, dark cottage in which a single window is lit up in the background) or portraying Gerda struggling, bootless and with numb feet, through an all-encompassing snowstorm. The Snow Queen can be enjoyed and interpreted on many levels, and the excellent illustrations in this new version will encourage young readers and adults alike to return to the story again and again to plumb its depths.

     Dot, eponymous protagonist of Randi Zuckerberg’s amusing book, is as modern a little girl as Gerda is an old-fashioned one, and Dot’s concerns are as contemporary as Gerda’s are timeless. Dot – endearingly drawn by Joe Berger – is obsessed with modern electronics, spending all her time tapping, touching, tweeting, tagging and otherwise connecting without really making any connections (except through the Internet and WiFi networks). Zuckerberg’s cleverly alliterative story also shows how Dot likes to surf, swipe, share and search – and, using every electronic means possible, to talk and talk and talk. But inevitably, Dot – watched at all times by her long-suffering dog, who simply cannot get her to do something as mundane as throw a ball – overloads on all the electronic communication and ends up quite dazed. So her mother (who is heard but not seen) urges her to get herself outside so she can “Reboot! Recharge! Restart!” And Dot does, soon reinterpreting all the electronic-world words in the world of sunshine and genuine friendships: “tap” becomes tap dancing, “touch” now involves a flower rather than a screen, “tweet” means imitating birdsong, and so on. By the end of the book, Dot and her friends have figured out how to balance electronic and in-person communication, and everyone – including the dog – is happy. Dot is a nicely soft-pedaled lesson in the problems and pleasures of living real life as well as the electronic kind.

     Pinkalicious is a differently obsessed character, with colors (often but not always pink) constantly on her mind. Now Victoria Kann offers a whole book of “pinktastic recipes” that not only feature Pinkalicious as guide (“I like to mix in a large bowl so nothing goes over the edge!”) but also end up with some cupcakes designed to look like characters from the Pinkalicious stories. The recipes in Pinkalicious Cupcake Cookbook are straightforward and generally easy to follow, their most distinguishing feature being that they mention specific brand names and types of products to use – gel food coloring rather than liquid, for example. In line with recent trendiness, there are gluten-free cupcakes here as well as traditional ones, and there are also such unexpected delights as a “teeny tiny pinky cupcake” the size of a thimble, a “purple power tower” (purple being another favored color of Kann’s character), and recipes that tie into Goldilicious, Emeraldalicious and the other Kann books. A cute seasonal touch is “I’m Dreaming of a Pink Christmas,” in which there are recipes for Christmas trees, snowmen and more. And then the book moves on to “cupcakes that look like some favorite PINKALICIOUS characters,” which are really amusing and will be a great treat for fans of Kann’s books. Helpful templates for specific recipe items are included at the back off the book, and the whole thing will be a lot of fun for kids and parents who enjoy working together in the kitchen as well as reading together elsewhere.

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