Monday, January 7, 2008

The Jewel Box Ballerinas by Monique De Varennes, Illustrated by Ana Juan

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (September 11, 2007)

In The Jewel Box Ballerinas, Bibi Branchflower is so rich that she has two of everything—two houses, two limos, and two little pugs that, in the book, look kind of cute and insane at the same time. The only thing Bibi doesn’t have is a friend. One day she happens upon a tiny little shop and finds a beautiful jewel box that contains two tiny ballerinas. Before she buys them, the shopkeeper warns her that the box is cursed and everyone who has previously bought it has ended up returning it. Bibi, who would never believe in such rubbish as curses, buys it anyway and names the ballerinas Miranda and Mathilda. But Miranda and Mathilda look extremely sad, so Bibi sets upon a mission to cheer them up. When all of the gifts and entertainment in the world won’t even produce a smile from the ballerinas, Bibi thinks a change of scenery will do the trick. It’s on this journey that something magical truly happens, changing Bibi’s life forever.

My favorite part in the book is when Bibi decides to kiss the ballerinas in an effort to cheer them:

“‘Is that a smile?’” she asked, for it seemed that their faces brightened. Then she shook her head. ‘Oh, piffle, it’s only my old eyes making a fool of me. All the same, dear dancers, I’ll kiss you often, for that felt wonderful indeed.’”

Here, we realize that Bibi is not the cantankerous old spinster others may make her out to be. She does have feelings, and she’s lonely. The ballerinas are not the only ones in need of cheering up.

Juan’s striking and detailed illustrations make Bibi’s quirkiness come to life. Each time I read the book, I find a new illustration I hadn’t noticed before, from two snow globes atop Bibi’s sled in Alaska to the hilarious expressions on Bibi’s pugs’ that will have your child (and you) laughing with glee.

This enchanting picture book reminds us that people are more important than things but in a lighthearted way that won’t make kids think they’re being taught a lesson. They’ll be too focused on Bibi’s wild hair and her pugs jumping with merriment at the end of the book to notice.

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