Loula seethes. Sick of three ugly brothers and ignored by dotty parents, she sets out for Africa, making it only as far as the tree in the front yard until Gilbert (the family chauffeur) arrives to assist her on an imaginative safari.
Much feels familiar here: an affluent, plucky girl with an upturned nose and a doting servant (Eloise, anyone?). A round-brimmed straw hat calls to mind a spunky French girl (bonjour, Madeline!). It’s Gilbert, long-legged and lanky in high-waisted trousers, driving cap and bow tie, that makes this story special, sweet and lasting. His elaborate game of pretend, one that turns a city playground into the jungle, desert and rivers of Africa, reveals an utter devotion not only to little Loula, but also to make-believe. “Mademoiselle, please! Don’t put your hand in the water! Piranhas!” he cautions urgently. Gestural ink-and-watercolor illustrations evoke the fantastic fluidity of the imagination, and crisp, copious white space suggests its limitlessness. Yellows and blues appear frequently, making this sunny adventure even sunnier. When Loula and Gilbert reach their destination (a tiny park island) at sunset, the dark squiggly cloud that hovered above Loula’s head on each previous page dissipates in a miniexplosion of elation.
A paean to imagination and an artful acknowledgment of children’s needs and frustrations, leavened with poignancy and humor.(Picture book. 2-6)