Rating: 4.5 stars
You could hear a pin drop when I read this very wordy picture book to my trio a few days ago. Storyteller Anne Isaacs writes a fun tall tale about a rich widow ridding herself of suitors. I would never have predicted each of my children would care so much about the story!
And here's a brief synopsis of that story:
In 1870, the widow Tulip Jones inherits 35 million dollars and a ranch at By-Golly Gully, Texas. She immediately hops the next boat over to America from her native England (she brings "two trunks of tea and her twelve pet tortoises" and three servants that would soon serve as ranch-hands). When the Widow Jones gets there, she and her three ladies-in-waiting soon realize that everything grows bigger in Texas. "Potatoes are so big it only takes seven of them to make a dozen." Her turtles grow to the size of thoroughbreds, and she treats them as the speedy steeds they become.
|By Golly Gully was so hot that chickens laid hard-boiled eggs, |
and lizards hobbled around on stilts to avoid
burning their feet on the ground.
But it's her money, not her green thumb or animal husbandry, that makes men line up for miles to propose to her. Every day she fends them off one at a time, and every night she sits and chats with Charlie, the ranch's baker, and eats the delicious things he makes for her to try.
She comes up with a plan to get rid of the suitors by making her hand in marriage something to be won in an impossible contest. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, her three ranch hand pals come up with their own plan: to invite a thousand brides to come and take the thousand suitors off of the Widow Jones' hands.
These two plans unfold simultaneously and seamlessly, and my kids were wrapped up in the drama as Anne Isaacs builds up the story in a great, too tall Texas way. I won't spill all the beans, but you've probably guessed that there were some very entertaining hiccups in each of the plans, and the thousand brides end up scaring away the main bad guys--the Hole in the Pants Gang--because these guys would rather go to jail than get married.
(I did my best not to laugh out loud and then explain why that was so funny on that point while reading to my kids.)
Anyway, the three ranch hands also find husbands so the Widow Jones is left...alone. Just for the moment, because her baker Charlie has more to offer her than a baked good at the end of her last day of suitors. He has a diamond ring for her to try. It's a happy ending after a long, rollicking tale that just feels good to everyone.
Hats off to Anne Isaacs here for writing such a break-the-rules long picture book that really would be less good if it was less wordy. I'm surprised I like it so much because the story is all about getting hitched, and I think the normal picture book audience is too young to think much about that. And it's looooong...I'm surprised three year old Kiefer sat through it.
Illustrator Kevin Hawkes might be a big part of the reason he did. Hawkes is incredible, crazy talented, excelling at making downright impossible things look like they could happen tomorrow morning, if only you were in the right place. He illustrated one of my favorite holiday books, Santa From Cincinnati, as well as two books I've not reviewed but bought because the illustrations just blew me away (the stories are wonderful, too!): The Library Lion and Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly.
For me, Isaacs and Hawkes make a fantastic duo. I'd like to see them pair up again!