CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 1999
Greater Dunitsa boasted a spacious public square with an excellent horse trough in the middle. The town clock, which frequently told the right time, was much admired. For the comfort of travelers, Mr. Farkas provided a luxurious inn: the only one, but who needed another? The town barber, Mr. Pugash, had invented his own amazingly aromatic hair oil. The highly educated Mr. Mellish taught the young folk and occasionally strummed the zither. Big Franko, the blacksmith, could straighten a horseshoe with his bare hands. Not to be overlooked: all the rest of the towns diligent, public-spirited citizens. The only blot on the town's reputation was the girl Rizka. She was skinny as a smoked herring: long-shanked, bright-eyed, with cheekbones sharp enough to whittle a stick. She had nothing, but was generous with it.So begins the tale of Rizka, a quick-witted, outspoken gypsy girl who lives with only her cat, Petzel, in her family's caravan on the outskirts of town, awaiting her father's return. Like a female Robin Hood, this feisty trickster exposes the foibles and rights the wrongs of the townspeople. From getting rid of a customer dissatisfied with his flea ridden bed to matchmaking, it is Rizka, rather than the mayor, who keeps this old world town running. Subtely supported by Big Franco, her loyal guardian, Rizka solves one bizarre quandary after another, chapter by chapter. Eventually, the gypsies return without Rizka's father to claim her, but, independent as ever, Rizka realizes that her true family is everyone in town and she refuses to leave.
Lloyd Alexander has written an unusual farce that brims with witty understatements and slap-stick comedy. From one absurd problem to the next, the rollicking pace never falters. Whether she's outwitting the arrogant abrasive Chief Councillor, Mr. Sharpnack, in court or tricking the self-important General Hatvan into trying a ludicrous treatment to improve intelligence, Rizka delights. She is an unusual, enchanting, strong female character surrounded by worshippers and fools. Yet, deftly woven into this farce are messages on the importance of human caring and tolerance. This highly unusual book might work well as a read aloud.
Joan Simpson is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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