Friday, November 2, 2012

Book #307: The Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Sève, Illustrated by Peter de Sève

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The Duchess of Whimsy was a most unusual woman. She was known throughout the land for her extravagant soirees and fabulous style. The Earl of Norm, on the other hand, was as normal as they come. He dressed in ordinary clothes and discussed sensible topics. The Duchess could see no use for the Earl, but the Earl loved the Duchess’s joie de vivre. The Earl tried to get her attention by borrowing clothes and bringing exotic pets, but his plans always go awry. Until the night that the cook took ill and all the party guests decided they would cook for themselves. They all choose ambitious dishes that they had no clue how to make, except the Earl. He knew he had no knack for cooking, so he whipped up the only thing he knew how to make – a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk. At first glance, the Duchess thought the sandwich was yet more proof that the Earl was boringly normal, but the sandwich looked so scrumptious that when the Earl offered her a bite she just can’t refuse. “It was delicious! It was delectable! It was divine!!” And so the Duchess found out that the Earl wasn’t quite as normal as he seemed. And the Earl found out that the Duchess had a quieter side. In short, they “found each other to be…simply extraordinary!

The text and illustrations, created by the husband and wife team, match one another in splendiferous brilliance. The illustrations feature slightly exaggerated characters in fabulous clothing surrounded by the magical whimsy of the Duchess's charm. The color palate is rooted in gem tones and the remarkable Duchess seems to shine like a diamond. The text is well-paced and boosts a rich vocabulary of descriptive words. However, the vocabulary is well incorporated into the story and does not distract from the story's theme – that everyone is extraordinary in his or her own way.

Before you read this book talk about synonyms and tell kids that this book has lots of new words they may not know, but they may be able to guess the meaning of based on the story. Introduce a few words, such as “extravagant,” “soiree,” “foliage,” and “flamboyant,” and then begin the story. As you read the story take time to define some words, but don’t stop for all of them or else you will lose the momentum of the story. After you read the book ask kids about specific words, were they able to guess the meaning from the story? Have kids put together a glossary of words for other readers.

The Duchess finds the grilled cheese sandwich to be delicious, delectable, and divine! Ask the kids what kinds of foods they think fit this criteria? Make sure to point out that everyone has different tastes and that different people find different things divine.

Pair this book with other titles that feature whimsically wonderful characters, such as Forsythia & Me, Halibut Jackson or Woolbur.

If you’re like me, this book will make you hungry! Try pairing it with other food-centric books, like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs or Anatole. Step into the kitchen and make a “normal” grilled cheese sandwiches or decorate “whimsical” cupcakes with bright frosting and sprinkles.

See this video of Liz Shanks, host of Penguin Storytimes, reading the story (skip to 2:11 if you want to skip her introduction).


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