Arabella Anastasia is definitely not an ordinary girl. And Indescribably Arabella isn't an ordinary book, either.

Like the Arabella of the title, author/illustrator Jane Gilbert had many dreams as a girl. She loved dancing, acting, poems and stories. And, of course, movie stars. In 1947, after rereading her childhood diaries, Gilbert was inspired to write and illustrate a book about a girl called Arabella Anastasia, named after her own rag doll.

Because of paper shortages during the Korean War, her book was never published. Gilbert set the project aside for 50 years then showed it to a writer friend. Eventually the story landed on the desk of Anne Schwartz, an editor at Atheneum Books for Young Readers. She loved it. And there's a lot to love in this delightful, nostalgic story. The text is hand-lettered in an old-fashioned script. The gouache illustrations are simple and charming. But it's Arabella herself who steals the limelight. For Arabella is a far cry from today's cookie-cutter Disney heroines. She has personality! With her plump thighs, tiny feet and enormous hair bows, she's sure to delight readers young and old.

The story begins on the day Arabella Anastasia decides to be famous. To start, she sets her sights on becoming a famous painter. But her colors run together and her lines go crooked. Arabella must choose another path to fame. So she decides to be an actress. Unfortunately, she has a few problems remembering her lines, to say nothing of her late entrances. Next, she takes up ballet. With her last few pennies she buys her tutu and dancing slippers. Alas, poor Arabella. The "people in the Big Offices" just laugh at her short legs. Fortunately, in the end, Arabella finds that while her gifts may not bring her fame, they can bring her satisfaction. Even more important, they can bring happiness to others. This simple, endearing story has a happy ending in more ways than one. When author Gilbert, now in her 80s, first saw a copy of the finished book, she cried with joy.

Deborah Hopkinson's newest book, Girl Wonder, A Baseball Story in Nine Innings, was recently recognized with a 2003 Parents Choice Gold Award.

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