When the morning silence is broken by the unexpected ringing of the phone or a knock on the door, the news can range from one end of the spectrum to the other. Yesterday when opening my front door a valued colleague and cherished friend was standing on the porch. To my surprise she was carrying a present for me. It was, believe it or not, the kind of gift I rarely receive but will always be the very best choice for me.
After removing the ribbon and paper, I held in my hands a book. We both started laughing. She was glad I did not already have the title. I couldn't believe my good fortune at having a book I've wanted to read. Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift (Sleeping Bear Press) written and illustrated by Dara Goldman is about the joy one can receive when being in second place.
Boris and Stella lived in the city.
Beneath their apartment is a restaurant where Boris plays the piano every night. Next door is a bakery where Stella bakes cakes. These bears, a musician and a baker, cherish the other's accomplishments.
They are like the proverbial "two peas in a pod"; enjoying the wearing of hats and watching scary movies at the theater. As the holidays approach, they each have a problem for which the other is unaware. Neither of them has enough money to get the other a gift. Nothing ordinary will do; an exceptional treat for an exceptional bear.
Stella celebrates Christmas. Boris celebrates Hanukkah. When Stella left Italy she was given a seedling from her family's farm. Now a large pine tree, it continues to remind her of home. Coming from Russia, Boris brought his dreidels, one given to him each year at Hanukkah by his parents. Many memories of home are represented by this collection.
Looking about their apartment, wondering how to get money, Stella and Boris have an idea. This year the eighth day of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve. Boris cooks potato latkes exactly the way Stella likes them. Stella bakes a panettone cake filling it and topping it exactly the way Boris likes it.
As the final candle on the menorah is aglow, Stella and Boris notice something seems to be awry in their home. Treasured items are missing. Exclamations can be heard as gifts are exchanged. What truly is the perfect gift?
Dara Goldman endears readers to her characters and their story with simple descriptive sentences along with a specific writing technique. Through the repetition of key phrases and action a gentle cadence is established in the telling of this tale reinforcing the affection between Stella and Boris. One act of kindness is followed by another. These two continually put the other first. Here are two examples.
Hanukkah was almost here and Stella wanted to give Boris something special. She shook her savings bank upside down. Only a few coins fell out. How could she give Boris something special if she only had a few coins?
Boris was troubled too. It was almost Christmas and he still didn't have a gift for Stella. Boris wanted to give her something special for Christmas.
He shook his savings bank upside down. Only a few coins fell out. How could he give Stella something special if he only had a few coins?
It may be a chilly winter's night on the matching jacket and cover but the rich yellow light shining from inside through the windows, the string of lights around the roof peak and the two smiling bears, tongues extended to catch the falling snowflakes, is brimming with warmth. Crisp white opening and closing endpapers mirror the atmosphere of the season; extending to the title page providing a frame for the hugging bears. Light, delicate watercolor illustrations by Dara Goldman fill single pages, corners rounded for framing.
Sometimes a grouping of several smaller pictures will extended a single sentence. Half pages with text underneath or much smaller single visuals, comfortable companions to the narrative's rhythm, alter the pacing. A bright, cheerful color palette with golden overtones contributes to the uplifting feeling of love and generosity throughout the book. Small details provide humor; the cat playing with the gift wrappings on several pages.
My favorite illustration is the cover and final page but then too, the pictures of Boris and Stella cooking traditional foods for each other are delightful. There is much to see on both of these pages. The array of food, the decor and the clothing each bear is wearing invite readers to pause and participate.
You can't help but feel a little happier, lightness in your soul, when you read Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift written and illustrated by Dara Goldman. Their charitable natures, the love they feel for each other, extends from the pages to surround you. This gentle gem is meant to be shared repeatedly.
Please follow the links to Dara Goldman's website and blog embedded in her names above. At her blog she walks readers through her inspiration (The Gift of the Magi) for and the process of creating Boris and Stella and the Perfect Gift post by post. Here is a link to the publisher's website where you can read an excerpt.