February 17, 2015

Gypsy's Fortune

by Caroline Stellings
Peanut Butter Press
32 pp.
Ages 4-8
November, 2014

On February 19, 2015, millions around the world will be celebrating Chinese New Year and I can't think of a sweeter new book to herald it in than Caroline Stellings' first picture book, Gypsy's Fortune.  As unimposing as the author-artist herself–her previous books include The Contest (Second Story Press,  2009) and The Manager (Cape Breton University Press, 2013)–Gypsy's Fortune shares clever messages about resilience and friendship, while offering a creative history regarding the origins of the fortune cookie.

Though she lives as a vagabond and sleeps beneath the stars, the ever-cheerful Gypsy, a "palm-reading, crystal-gazing, fortune-telling cat" (pg. 6), has managed to eke out a living in 1920s San Francisco. But the election of a new mayor who denies Gypsy and other fortune-tellers the right to charge for their services has our feline scurrying for alternate employment, but unsuccessfully.  It is only when Gypsy offers to wash dishes at Wu's Restaurant and instead shares a meal with Mr. Wu that her luck changes.

Discreetly reading his tea-leaves, Gypsy realizes Mr. Wu should not be selling his restaurant as he intends and finds a way to share this "fortune" with him.  With a new marketing strategy, the two establish a friendly partnership to woo new customers and provide Gypsy with employment.

Caroline Stellings' watercolour illustrations lend an ethereal quality to Gypsy's Fortune, wholly appropriate for Gypsy's spiritual endeavours and light-heartedness.  Wide bands of subtle shading crisscross the illustrations and enhance the jaunty nature of the time and Gypsy herself.  Though the colour reproduction of the book cover does not do justice to the artwork within, Gypsy's Fortune is filled with paintings in colourful but pale hues depicting Gypsy's endeavours and fortune cookies with messages.

Just as one fortune cookie's message reads, "The long road is often the shortest path to the correct destination" (pg. 6), I believe Caroline Stellings is heading in the right direction and, with Gypsy's Fortune, I hope her destination is better secured.

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