Diane Prather: 'Great Joy' beautiful and endearing

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'Great Joy' by Kate DiCamillo and Bagram Ibatoulline.

Books make wonderful gifts. This week's Christmas book is an example. It's both beautiful and endearing.

"Great Joy" is Kate DiCamillo's first picture book. Its illustrations were done by Bagram Ibatoulline.

The book's title lettering and the inside front and back pages are all in gold. So are the narrow borderlines on some of the pages. According to the information on the credit page, the book was typeset in ITC Golden Cockerel. The lifelike drawings were done in acrylic gouache. The book is absolutely gorgeous.

The story takes place a week before Christmas. That's when an old man shows up at the corner of Fifth and Vine. He sets up right in front of a store with a window that's all decorated for Christmas.

The old man is an organ grinder, and he has a monkey with him. The monkey, dressed in a green vest and red hat, shakes a bell and dances as the old man plays music. Sometimes the monkey holds a tin cup up to people passing by, and they drop coins into it.

Frances, a young girl, lives in an apartment above the street. From the living room window, she can see the old man and the monkey. She can even hear a little bit of music. Frances thinks it sounds sad.

The little girl worries about where the organ grinder and monkey spend the night. She asks her mother, but mother is busy pinning up the hem of Frances' pageant robe. She just wants to know if Frances has memorized her line for the Christmas pageant.

That night, Frances stays awake until midnight. Then she takes her flashlight and creeps down the hallway and into the living room. Frances goes to the window and looks out onto the street.

The organ grinder still is there, his hat pulled down over his face. The monkey is tucked inside the man's overcoat. The old man looks up at the only light in the apartment building. He takes off his cap and raises it to Frances.

The falling snow in the illustration on this page appears to be gold. The old man's cap and hair have a gold look, too. It's absolutely beautiful. This illustration also is the cover of the book.

The next morning, while Frances eats her breakfast, she tells mother that the organ grinder and monkey sleep on the street. Mother is sad for them, but when Frances asks if they can come for dinner, mother reminds her that they're strangers.

That night, Frances and her mother are nearly late for the pageant because Frances has to stop to put a nickel in the monkey's tin cup and to invite them to the church play.

There's a wonderful surprise in store for the reader.

Kate DiCamillo, a Newberry Medal and Honor winner, is one of my favorite authors.

"Great Joy" is published by Candlewick Press. The new (2007) book costs $16.99 in hardcover and would make a great gift.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2007. All rights reserved.

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