Like the handle on a windup toy that moves clockwise until it stops and spins in reverse, the 2014 Hans Christian Anderson Award winner manipulates a chain of actions and consequences—and then imagines the momentum flowing backward with entirely different outcomes.
As a barefooted gardener keeps watch over a white rose, the reasons for and importance of his shoelessness are traced through the motivations of eccentric characters. They include a man who dies brokenhearted after a seamstress’s love letter is dropped by a letter carrier preoccupied with retrieving a ring and Rajah The Malodorous, whose sour-milk baths, prescribed by a charlatan, lead his betrothed to engineer her own kidnapping. Ultimately everything hinges on a map whose compass rose has been stolen, an unidentified someone claims, by the white rose. But wait—the narrator announces that the white rose couldn’t have stolen the compass rose, thereby altering everyone’s fates. Elegant linework mixes with torn paper and soft, textured colors as a parade of luminous, exotic caricatures and their accouterments unfold against a white backdrop; the effect is magical. The interactions probe issues around wealth, possession, and compassion. Mello’s plot is made all the more mind-boggling with framing and intermediary scenes that are either voiced by an unreliable narrator or require fresh listening and looking.
Complex and provocative, this Brazilian import will intrigue readers who like puzzles and frustrate those who don’t. (Picture book. 8-12)