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Leslie-Spinks, Tim and Alice Andres
Illustrated by Annouchka Galouchko
Toronto, Annick Press, 1993. 30pp, paper,
ISBN 1-55037-323-4 (paper) $5.95,
ISBN 1-55037-320-X(library binding) $15.95.
Distributed by Firefly Books. C IP

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10

Reviewed by Linda Holeman

Volume 22 Number 2
1994 March / April

This story is told in the form of a very long narrative poem in four-line stanzas.

A strange, threadbare old man arrives at the home of a young man and shows him a huge ruby. Then he shares his story.

Years earlier, he and three friends set out to steal a fortune in jewels from Hannifa, the sultan of Trinkamalee. They were duly discovered, and one friend died in the ensuing fight. The other three were imprisoned. But eventually they were rescued from the terrible dungeon by the sultan's son, who was envious of the freedom the picaroons once enjoyed:

     'l'd trade all my riches for your situation,
     To love life, and be who I wanted to be,
     For diamonds and rubies are poor consolation
     When all of your power won't let you be free.'

As he helped the thieves (for that is what they were, essentially) escape, the boy gave them a bag containing three jewels. But the narrator, out of a sense of responsibility to his murdered friend, wanted to give his jewel, a giant ruby, to the dead man's wife. But she had also died, leaving a small boy. The man spent the rest of his life searching for this child of his dear friend, and on the last page we find that the young man the narrator tells his tale to is indeed the child, now grown. The old man dies after passing on the ruby, supposedly redemmed (and free).

While this is a visually interesting book, I couldn't quite determine the audience it was meant for. It is in picture-book style, and yet it is far too long, with difficult words, to hold the attention of a young child. The story is fairly grim and predictable, and I felt a certain tedium in the rhyming, although in all fairness children often like this very metered beat.

Galouchko's illustrations, rendered in acrylics and mixed media, are rich and full of detail and imagery. There is a definite dark feeling in many of the pages, coinciding with the heavy nature of the story itself.

Not recommended.

Linda Holeman, a former elementary teacher, now writes full time in Winnipeg, Manitoba

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