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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Lyon, George Ella One Lucky Girl;illus. by Irene Trivas.Jackson/DK Ink, 2000. [32p]
ISBN 0-7894-26137   $15.95    Gr. 4-7 yrs

There's lots of scary stuff out there, as any preschooler will attest; every step further from home seems to bring a new parcel of problems that Mom and Dad cannot mitigate. Perhaps most frightening are those violent acts of nature that pepper the TV news-fire, floods, hurricanes, twisters-against which there seems to be no adequate defense. Frightening, yes, but equally alluring; few children of even the tenderest age can resist a peek at disaster, especially if it's someone else's disaster, and especially if it all ends happily. What, then, could be more enticing than a picture-book cover featuring a baby slumbering amid wildflowers in an open field while a coal-black cloud spews debris on the not-so-distant horizon? Has it passed the baby by, or is it headed her way? What child won't clamor to find out?

Hawkeye, brother of baby Becky and narrator of the story, tells about the summer day in which, without warning, a tornado churns its way through his trailer camp, shredding mobile homes and tossing them off their sites. His shell-shocked family has barely recovered from the force of the winds that passed over them when they realize that their home is gone, and Becky with it. Now Hawkeye must use all his perceptive ability to track down his sister, hoping for the best yet fearing the worst.

Lyon understands that for most listeners it's ferocious Mother Nature, not Hawkeye, who's the star of this show, and that youngsters' tolerance for the niceties of rising action has its limits. Her pacing, dictated by the parameters of the standard thirty-two page picture-book format, is a masterful roller coaster of roiling emotion. Two double spreads with a mere ten lines of text set the scene; by the third spread the sky has darkened, and by the fourth the first drop of eagerly anticipated terror has arrived: "Right then it got sick quiet-no breeze, no bird cry. I could see a black finger of wind twisting toward us. 'Tornado!' somebody yelled. We hit the dirt." Then comes destruction, then a quiet pause for disbelief, then another gut-wrenching dip as the family realizes the baby is gone: "All the screams nobody had screamed tore out of my mother's mouth. . . . 'Becky!' she hollered into the sky."

Trivas matches Lyon thrill for thrill, with blended pastel opening scenes of a sunny yellow picture-perfect day breaking abruptly into a dense ebony twister tinged with demonic red, a riotous confusion of whirling debris, and again the sun spreading its warmth and peace over the wreckage. Against the indefensible expanse of prairie and under the looming pressure of the funnel cloud, people and structures appear all the more fragile and vulnerable.

In the end, however, Lyon and Trivas know there is only so much panic a child audience can withstand, and, as sure-handedly as they manipulate their thrills, they speed the distraught family along to its happy ending, racing Hawkeye through rubble-strewn fields until he spots Becky: "It looked like. . . it couldn't be, but it looked like-a dream, the best dream you could ever have, the one where you find your treasure." Swathed in her pink blanket, tenderly guarded by the smiling sun-and-moon mobile arching above her white slatted crib, lucky Becky is as resilient as the verdant prairie grasses and brilliant wildflowers around her.

A delightful flurry of shivers, followed by the comforting relief of a family unharmed and inseparable-this is the action picture book at its best. Doubtless some stubborn listeners may mistrust the benign ending and protest, "This couldn't really happen." Reassure them with the lead lines of the jacket flap, "Here is a true story . . . "

--Elizabeth Bush, Reviewer

Big Picture Image
March's Bulletin cover illustration by Irene Trivas from
One Lucky Girl,
Copyright 2000. Used by
permission of Jackson/DK Ink.

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This page was last updated on March 1, 2000.