03/23/01
National Umbrella Month: Peter Sis's Madlenka
    by John Cech

March is National Umbrella Month, a time, as Chase's Calendar of Events tells us, that is "dedicated to the use of and conversation about" that most useful of implements. Though she isn't talking about umbrellas, per se, the small heroine of Madlenka, the latest picture book (from Farrar Straus and Giroux) by the award-winning artist and writer, Peter Sis, is full of conversation. Madlenka has a loose tooth, and she sets out to circumnavigate her New York neighborhood, dressed in her yellow boots and with her yellow umbrella in hand, to spread the news to all her friends.

As she makes her way around the block, she meets (and greets) Mr Gaston the French baker in the Patisserie; Mr. Singh, from India, in his newspaper shop; Mr. Ciao who sells Italian gelatos from his ice cream truck; Mr. Eduardo from Latin America, whose grocery store is full of exotic flowers and delicious fruits and vegetables; Mrs. Grimm from Germany, who has a ready supply of wonderful stories. Each of her friends has filled Madlenka's imagination with tales of their native lands (and we look, with Madlenka, into these deep, rich fantasies of faraway places through the windows of their shops, windows that are literally open on the pages of the book, inviting the reader into these other worlds). Madlenka is simply returning their favors when she announces her wiggly discovery; and they are delighted to see her and celebrate this important event. Her friend and schoolmate from Egypt, little Cleopatra, thinks it's "Cool, baby."

"Tashi Delek, Mandala. That's a lucky sign," says Mrs. Kham about Madlenka's tooth. Mrs. Kam is from Asia and she opens up a shop of wonders and magical things for Madlenka -- the famous ox-herding boy is there, and so is the Great Wall of China, and the Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa, and a huge red dragon that protects Madlenka with his magical tail.

Mandlenka hurries home to her parents who are understandably worried. But she reassures them brightly that there was no need for them to be concerned -- she's just been around the world. And in Peter Sis's evocative, hauntingly beautiful pictures, which have the calming, unifying, centering powers of ancient mandalas brought to Manhattan, so have we.

Copyright 2001 by John Cech

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Wednesday, 04-Sep-2002 22:23:51 EDT


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