Alma and the Beast
Alma and the Beast
Alma and the Beast is a picture book that works doggedly to be daffy, from the author bio on the jacket to the whirlwind of brightly-coloured images that fill the pages.
Alma is a wide-eyed yeti-like creature with gray fur who is spending a regular day in her unusual world.
She plucked a butter breakfast tulip. No, two. Okay, THREE.
She ate one and gave two to her plumpooshkie butterfly.
Then she braided the trees…combed the grass…
and petted the roof, as one does when the days grow
chilly and pink.
Then she meets something unexpected: a beast with almost no hair, except for the neat dark tresses on top. Readers know she is a young human wearing a stripy dress with matching beanie, but Alma does not. At first, Alma is alarmed, but soon realizes she is not being threatened. This new beast is sad.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I cannot find my way home,” whispered the beast, no longer looking so scary.
Alma thought, “Where would I be without my home?...Nowhere, that’s
where!” And that’s precisely where the beast was.
This is Mala whose name is an anagram of Alma’s own. After some conversation, Alma helps the girl retrace her steps. Where Mala lives appears completely unfamiliar to a being used to Alma’s own vigorously hairy surroundings. Mala shows Alma how she waters her garden and paints the roof. Their visit is a pleasant one, but, after a time, Alma wants to return to the habitat most comfortable to her.
With a big hairy hug Alma said goodbye to her new friend, Mala.
Mala watched Alma as she climbed up, up, UP the whimpering weeping
willow, and then…all was quiet.
But there was one thing left to do. Mala plucked one butterfly
bedtime mushroom. No, two. Okay, THREE. She ate one and gave
two to her chicken. And with that, Mala’s day ended like any other.
Alma and the Beast is a well-worn story of how needing help from someone (or something) can lead to making a new friend. The illustrations, with their echoes of tropical fabric prints, are eye-catching, and Mala’s house in the woods, with its shingled roof and turrets, looks like it would be a fine place to live – with no adults in sight!
Shapiro, a Brooklyn artist with Canadian roots, was a Governor General’s Literary Award nominee for her book Ooko, which was favourable reviewed in CM, but Alma and the Beast does not make the cut. The plot is unoriginal, and the rest is just trying too self-consciously for whimsy.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.