From the beloved husband-and-wife team of The Gardener , a Caldecott Honor Book
Annabelle Bernadette Clementine Dodd
Was a good little girl, though decidedly odd.
Belle lived every day as if she were grown -
She thought she could do everything all on her own.
Lucky for Belle, she has a friend at home, a caregiver named Beatrice Smith - Bea - who keeps a close eye on her so she doesn't get into too much mischief. Through the week Belle helps Bea as she does chores or shops or bakes, and at the end of most days they head to the beach - Belle and Bea, hand in hand, by the sea. But one afternoon Belle sneaks outside to play all alone, and something happens that changes her life forever.
A lyrical rhymed text and pictures that pack emotion combine to present powerful portraits of a girl and her loving guardian.
"The husband-and-wife team whose exceptional titles include the Caldecott Honor Book The Gardener 0 (1997) 0 offer a nostalgic picture book that raises some provocative questions. Tightly rhymed couplets and sweeping illustrations tell the story, set in the first half of the twentieth century, of sprightly redheaded Belle, child of prodigiously wealthy parents, and Bea, Belle's black caregiver and the household's maid. Belle's parents are detached and largely absent; they appear early in the story, step into a luxurious convertible, and zoom away. Every day, it's just Belle and Bea in the enormous seaside mansion. Stewart's rhymes follow child and guardian through a week of activities: Bea tackles household chores, while Belle lends a hand. When Belle's "help" results in the inevitable messes, they put down their brooms and baking pans and head to the glimmering seashore in their backyard: "They'd go to the beach--their castles were grand-- / Belle and Bea, by the sea, hand in hand." Their routine is disrupted when Belle marches off to the beach alone and nearly drowns while trying to rescue a ball. Bea arrives just in time to scoop the terrified child from the waves, and in a final scene, Belle ("all dry now, and in a safe place") offers a warm drink to the distressed Bea. The last spread features an image of a redheaded adult, the grown-up Belle, gazing thoughtfully out a window, accompanied by a rhymed tribute: "There was a good woman, / I called her my friend. / She's in my heart now-- / She took care of me then." Stewart tells her story mostly from a child's viewpoint, presenting Bea as a wholly devoted caregiver, just as a young child might view a beloved nanny. The words show affection between Belle and the ever-encouraging Bea, and the singsong rhythm of the rhymes tries to reinforce the sunny view of the relationship. What's most puzzling here is the closing image of the adult Belle, looking back, which introduces a mature viewpoint into the story--that of a grown-up with the experience to understand the complexity of the black nanny-white child relationship, particularly in a pre-civil rights era. If the book is meant as a nostalgic, autobiographical tribute, as the author's note suggests, and it is not told entirely from a child's point of view, why not portray Bea in more depth? In Libba Moore Gray's Dear Willie Rudd 0 (1993) ,0 for example, 0 a white woman gratefully remembers her black caregiver, but her gratitude is deepened with an adult's understanding of the difficult racial and societal pressures that caretaker Willie Rudd must have endured and a sense of what Willie's life must have really been like. In The Friend0 , it's mostly the sweeping ink-and-watercolor illustrations, including many wordless spreads that add the nuances. Small's art hints not only at Bea's great affection but also at the deep strains and stresses of her life, particularly in the sweeping lines he uses to define her weary body language. After the water rescue, when Belle is safe, Small captures both Bea's love and anguish in a pose that beautifully telegraphs profound layers of emotion that seem at odds with the brief, bouncing text. Children may be left wondering why, if Belle is safe, Bea is still so distraught--an excellent question that's cut short by the abrupt ending. Stewart's story is a heartfelt tribute, and some children growing up with nannies will see themselves. But there's discord between the beautiful pictures, the rhyme, and the shifting viewpoint. Why not allow the adult apparently telling the story to remember her caregiver with empathy as well as love and show that she finally understands, as a young Belle probably could not, that Bea's life, and their relationship, was much more complicated than can be captured in cheerful verses? Small conveys some of that empathy in his pictures, but the words never allow Bea to move beyond her narrow, simplistic role of saintly, long-suffering caregiver. The result risks perpetuating stereotypes and is a missed opportunity to explore an important, complex subject. --Gillian Engberg Copyright 2004 Booklist"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"In perhaps their most personal work to date, this fifth collaboration between the husband-and-wife team behind The Journey explores the subtle, intense bond shared by a girl and her caregiver, inspired by a similar relationship in the author's childhood. The book begins cinematically, with endpapers that feature a girl nearly swallowed by the luxurious appointments of her sepia-toned bedroom. The artist sets her off in a kind of spotlight, her red hair and blue nightgown the only splash of color; in the following panel cartoons, she could be an adult-putting on her glasses and emerging from the blankets-until she picks up a teddy bear and makes her way down the stairway, barely able to reach the banister. Thus Small (So You Want to Be President) presents Annabelle Bernadette Clementine Dodd as a girl wise beyond her years. Belle's mother kisses her on the cheek, her father consults his watch, and Bea, a quietly graceful woman with her hair neatly tucked into a bun, packs the parents' luggage in the trunk. As the parents speed away, Belle leans against Bea with their arms entwined, the girl's height at perhaps Bea's waist. Stewart wastes not a word as her text sets a rhythm to the duo's days, the first day of the week spent hanging laundry on the line, the second ironing, etc. Each afternoon the two break for a stroll on the beach, and, depicted in Small's wordless spreads, the scenes underscore a bond so strong that the child and caregiver need not speak. Bea invites Belle into her world, leading Belle up the back stairs into her cozy room, and taking the girl to her church, filled with the African-American congregation's voices raised in song ("Belle sang best"). When tragedy nearly strikes one day, it is as though Bea feels in her bones that something is wrong, and when she comes to Belle's rescue, the portraits that follow convey their ineffable connection. On the final page, Small shows the now grown Belle in surroundings much more akin to Bea's special room in Belle's house than to her parents' finery-and readers feel the full impact of Bea's life on Belle's own. Ages 5-up. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved