Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Duchess of Whimsy

I make it no secret that I adore the artwork of Peter de Seve. Ever since I first saw one of his New Yorker covers, I've been fascinated by his work. So when I found out that he had illustrated a children's book, I knew I had to buy it. The book was written by Peter's very talented wife Randall de Seve and the story is just as much fun as the illustrations.

The Duchess of Whimsy follows a rather steady and some would say dull Duke. The Duke of Norm prefers things to be in order. He's quiet and seriousness and ordinary. And he's in love with the Duchess of Whimsy, a royal who can't stand anything to be ordinary. She loves anything exotic and strange. What she isn't interested in is the Duke of Norm. That is until a royal banquet turns into a catastrophe when the cook becomes ill. All the other royals start making extraordinary dishes, all expect the Duke. He makes a plain grilled cheese sandwich and milk. The Duchess is intrigued and then enamored. That sparks their friendship. The Duke begins to understand how the extraordinary can be fun and the Duchess learns that sometimes quiet and serious can be interesting. And they live happily ever after.

I love this story. It's a simple story but I've known a good number of couples who fit this bill. When I read it I realized how this is not just a children's story. It's a story about relationships, about love, about finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Randall has a fantastic imagination. I particularly liked her descriptions of the Duke of Norm's attempts to impress the Duchess. "The Earl of Norm composed sugary poetry comparing the Duchess to a squid, a platypus and a penguin...." Or the fantastic dishes that the rest of the royals are making. "The Duke of Dreams made a velvet midnight cake topped with an entire galaxy of spun sugar stars. But first he had to learn how to spin sugar." This is a wonderful story with a fantastic mix of the ordinary and sublime.

Peter is a master of facial expressions and this might be his best medium for those. The book is filled with interesting faces, beautiful details, and fantastic colors. Each page is more like a glorious painting than a children's book. The scene in the kitchen is one of my favorite images. It mixes Peter's humor with his incredible attention to detail. Using just the few words on the page, he creates a scene filled with life and light. This is pure art. A fantastic book that both children and adults will love. Children will love the silly scene, like where the Duke brings a giraffe to the party or where the duchess hosts her party surrounded by fish in balloons. Adults will love the sweet love story and will identify with the duke and duchess. And everyone may want a grilled cheese sandwich.