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Richardo Keens-Douglas. Illustrated by Annouchka Galouchko.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 1992.
28pp., library binding, $15.95.
ISBN 1-55037-239-4. CIP. paper, $5.95. ISBN 1-55037-236-X.
Also available in French as: Le Mystère de la Isla Especias.

Subject Headings:
Princesses-Juvenile fiction.
Indonesia-Juvenile fiction.

Kindergarten-grade 6 / Ages 5-11

Reviewed by Judy Coulman.

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

Richardo Keens-Douglas has captured in fiction the delight of story-telling from his childhood in Grenada, the Isle of Spice. The language and structure of The Nutmeg Princess reflect his love for, and proficiency at, this narrative art. At first, though, the inaccuracy of the sentence structure was obtrusive and I was unable to appreciate the panorama of the tale. Nevertheless, after several readings, the flow of the language, complete with sentence fragments and dangling participles, absolutely enthralled me.

"Because nobody was coming up the mountain to buy from Petite Mama" ends the first page of the book, introducing us to this independent character and her interdependence with nature. The flow of the language enhances the story-teller's ability to charm, both in the dialogue and in the narrative sections: "No thanks, sonny, no thanks."

The Nutmeg Princess representing goodness and beauty appears to Aglo after he hears about her from Petite Mama. Unlike Aglo, who believes in the princess, his friend Petal cannot see the Nutmeg Princess, until she performs an act of selfless bravery, endangering her life to save Aglo. The pure pleasure of fantasy, good and evil, greed in conflict with generosity, and moral values rewarded are all here in a rich tapestry.

The illustrator, Annouchka Galouchko, deserves special commendation. Her illustrations, riotous with colour, delight the senses at every turn. Yes, you can taste - and smell - the bouquet of the spice trees as you bask in the warmth of the tropical sun! She discusses her joy as a child creating stories from the intricate designs of the carpets in her home. Using this fantasy from childhood, she has created multi-layered illustrations that extend the text beyond the printed script, capturing the essence of Keens-Douglas' story. Evil is portrayed in garish characters. The corruption of mankind explodes from two full pages: one when technology tries to determine the depth of the lake on the spice mountain and the other when people tried to reach the diamonds they heard were suspended from the hair of the Nutmeg Princess.

This folkloric story is enhanced by the creative care of the illustrator. The holistic interdependence between nature and the principal characters is emphasized by the circular patterning of the illustrations.

Galouchko, using the gouache technique and a profusion of colours, obviously enjoyed the creation of these masterful pages. One small example of her anthropomorphic play is a horse incidental to the main focus of a full-page illustration. This horse, sporting two faces, has red flowers growing from her mane, a small colt curled inside her body, and is wearing ... I really do believe ... flowered running shoes! In this same illustration Petite Mama is very typically human, balancing precariously on one foot atop her ladder picking her fruit tree, but what a tree it is. Galouchko keeps the human component of her illustrations realistic; in contrast, her portrayal of nature is always wildly imaginative and magic.

The Nutmeg Princess will be an asset to a school library since it fills a void for materials from this geographic and cultural area. However, it will not allow itself to be contained here and in fact defies classification with such narrow categorization. This book is a fantastic, fabulous, magnificent gem for any collection (I hope I'm not too retiring in my praise) providing a cornucopia of delights for reader and listener both. The flow of language and the riotous panorama of the illustrations herald a perfectly matched team.

Judy Coulman is a teacher - librarian/resource teacher for gifted education at the Edward Johnson School in Guelph, Ontario.
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