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Eloise in Moscow

Odd Couple Invade Russia and Produce Best-seller
When Kay Thompson (with Hilary Knight in tow) swept through Moscow at the height of the Cold War, the Russians didn’t know what hit them. No one could have predicted that this small masterpiece would be the result. First published in 1959 and out of print for more than three decades, their fourth book about Eloise is DELICIOUS.
Eloise gets more outlandish with each book in Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight’s popular 1950s series. First published in 1951–when cold war sentiments were heating up–Eloise in Moscow showcases the highly undiplomatic exploits of our favorite precocious 6-year-old as she paints the town red with her beloved Nanny. Adults will relish this glimpse behind the Iron Curtain, complete with a foldout spread of the Kremlin that is positively suitable for framing (“Here’s what they/ have in the Kremlin/ armor Easter eggs/ icons/ and clocks,” “Ivan is terrible/ and is watching in this tower”). The usual pink, black, and white color scheme is absent here–Knight’s pen-and-ink drawings are instead accented with a rich goldenrod, and in the foldout Kremlin, even oranges and greens.

After a three-week stay in Moscow with her colleague Hilary Knight, Kay Thompson had plenty of fodder for her distinctly Eloisian travelogue: the food (“It is difficult to know what to eat in Moscow/ There is no melon in season/ Nichevo”); the stilted English of their tour guide (“That house is Chekhov/ That house is Stanislavsky if you want to see it/ No you cannot it is reconstruction”); national security (“Our telephone had quite a bit of static/ so we talked about General de Gaulle/ to throw them off track/ Everybody listens to everything in Moscow”); and even the water (“The water is Russian so I brushed my teeth/ with/ pear lemonade and apple lemonade/ Actually I preferred/ the pear”).

Children will be fascinated by the intricate, delicately skritched details of this 72-page picture book, but adults will surely be the most amused. Fortunately, in the wake of Eloise’s Russian junket, the Kremlin wall is left standing, and there are no international repercussions. But is she, as she haughtily declares, an “absolutely darling little sweetnik”? Definitely nyet. And that’s the way we like her. If your Eloise library is incomplete, which would be sad, be sure to investigate Eloise in Paris; Eloise at Christmastime; The Absolutely Essential Eloise (complete with historical scrapbook); or the original recipe, Eloise. (Best for grownups–or as a read-aloud for ages 7 and older) –Karin Snelson
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