Monday, February 23, 2015

Pas de Deux: Flora and Penguin by Mary Idle

Flora is far from her former dance partner, Flamingo, as she laces up her ice skates and ventures onto the blue-white Antarctic ice. Right away she notices a penguin who seems interested in her swooping strokes.

Soon the two begin to glide over the ice together, a skating session that quickly turns into a lovely ballet, as the impromptu partners mirror each other's moves in synchronized dance. Wing-in-hand, they twirl, leap, and spring in perfect rapport, blending almost into one.

But suddenly Penguin breaks away and dives into a breathing hole in the ice. Flora feels rejected and hurt, turning her back on her partner, just as Penguin slips up onto the ice and offers Flora a fish she has caught as a gift. Confused, Flora hurries to set the fish free in the ice hole, and now it is Penguin who feels miffed and rejected.

But the joy of their dance draws them together, in a grand finale of a four-page gatefold, as Flora and Penguin understand each other, their differences and their common love for ballet, as they end their dance with quite a lot of flare, in Molly Idle's sequel to her 2013 Caldecott Honor Book, Flora and the Flamingo (See my 2013 review here.)

In her second book, Flora and the Penguin (Chronicle Books, 2014), Idle takes a different tack: instead of playing up the contrast between the Flora's chubby, short-legged shape and Flamingo's long, elegant lines, the illustrator points up the similar body forms of Flora and Penguin as they dance, contrasted against their different views toward what to do with a fish. It's a funny but short-lived tiff, as the two return gladly to their improvised girl-and-penguin pas de deux. Idle chooses a cool blue palette, accented only with touches of yellow, beautifully suited to the polar setting. Again, Molly Idle's artistic skills turn a tour jete' into a tour de force,, with the added fun of flaps which extend the story, showing what is happening under the ice as well as above and with her multi-page grand finale, with the fish below the ice serving as corps de ballet.

Idle's latest has earned starred reviews from School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Common Sense Media. As Booklist says, "Rings with the real emotion of friendship found, lost, and found again... a charmer."

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