Jan 282012

 Young Heroine Soars With Magic Beanie

January 26, 2012 – Reviewed by Ken Fermoyle


Remember the days when propeller beanies were the signature

headgear of tekkies and nerds?

A charming new picture book for children casts one beanie in an

entirely new light.

“Isabella Propeller and the Magic Beanie,” by Jonathon Graves, is

the modern fable of a young girl who learns to fly with the help of a

special beanie, a charmed feather, a lady known as Wind Keeper

and a hawk named Red Tail.

The tale is a simple one, simply told — just right for reading to

preschoolers and to be enjoyed by young readers who have

progressed beyond the “See Spot run!” stage. I expect that my great-grand kids (aged two and five) will be

enthralled when I introduce them to Isabella. The book is already catching on, and has been nominated for the

2012 Caldecott Medal*.

The book includes action a-plenty and it could be a bit scary for the younger set if not handled so deftly by the

author. Jonathon Graves is a native North Carolinian who lives part of the year in Blowing Rock, the setting for

Isabella Propeller and the Magic Beanie. Graves reportedly was inspired to write the book by “his five

grandchildren, the charm and winds of Blowing Rock” and local lore.

Legend has it that a Cherokee brave, despondent at the prospect of having to leave the Chickasaw maiden he

loved, leaped from Blowing Rock into the Johns River Gorge 3,000 feet below. The maiden prayed to the Great

Spirit for his return and the winds from below blew him back up and into her arms.

The story begins with Isabella and her dog, Mullaby, playing in her grandparents’ attic. Suddenly a gust of wind

blew the window open and scattered the attic’s contents hither and yon. Mullaby nosed through the mess and

found the beanie. Isabella took it from him and plopped it on her head, thinking it was only a strange-looking hat.



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Ken Fermoyle reads to his greatgranddaughter,

Cheyenne, who, he says,

“is the fourth generation of readers in my

family. She will be five in March, can

already spell and print her name and read

some words,” says Fermoyle. “She loves

books and being read to.”

“It certainly looks good on you,” her grandfather said when she came down from the attic wearing it. “I guess from

now on, we’ll have to call you Isabella Propeller!”

Isabella next meets a mysterious old woman she later learns is called Wind Keeper. She attaches a red feather to

Isabella’s beanie, then disappears. Later, during a family picnic at Blowing Rock, Mullaby is trapped by his leash

part way down the rocky cliff. In trying to rescue Mullaby, Isabella stumbles upon the Cave of the Winds and

meets Wind Keeper again. Thus begins her big adventure.

Readers can follow the tale themselves and enjoy Gail Haley’s

complementary illustrations. They are not just lovely works of art that

advance the story line, but often convey a sense of wind-swept

motion that strengthens the book’s theme.

The excellence of the illustrations comes as no surprise; Ms. Haley

has won many awards for children’s book illustrations, including the

Caldecott Medal, Kate Greenway Medal (U.K.) and Kadai Tosho

Award (Japan).

For more on the book and where to buy it ($15.95), visit:






*The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century

English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the

Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the

American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished

American picture book for children. It is the equivalent of a Pulitzer

or National Book Award in its category.


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