Any child who has been hushed, shushed, or asked to "use your inside voice, please," will delight in the exuberant new heroine of Niki Daly's Ruby Sings the Blues. (The same is true for any parent who's tried to find a gentle way to ask their offspring to lower the decibel level to somewhere below a sonic boom.)
You see, Ruby is loud. Scare the cat up a lamppost loud. The neighbors are complaining.
Her classmates shun her in an effort to preserve their hearing for hip-hop concerts later in life.
With her red ponytails and large round glasses, Ruby looks more like the shy and silent type. Instead, she's the spiritual heir to Dr. Seuss's "Gerald McBoing-Boing," who spoke only in squeaks and honks.
Except, unlike Gerald, Ruby has loving parents and a supportive teacher, who try every way they can think of to keep her outsize voice down to a dull roar - to no avail.
But when none of the other kids will play with her, Ruby, crushed, starts speaking in a whisper.
Like Gerald, who found fame as a radio Foley artist, Ruby just needs the correct outlet for her unusual vocal gifts. And the saxophone player and jazz singer who live in the basement apartment of Ruby's building think they have the right answer: Put that little girl behind a microphone and turn her loose.
South African author and illustrator Daly gives his story of a pint-size jazz singer a hip feel with her pencil and ballpoint pen illustrations. (When Ruby switches into her black-and-red singing costume, there are distinct echoes of another of literature's budding divas, "Olivia.") [Editor's note: The original version misidentified Niki Daly's gender and nationality.]
As for road-testing, the 3-year-old chatterbox in my life has requested "Ruby" every day since it arrived, and his grandmother, who despairs of many modern children's books, pronounced it "very sweet."
The only challenge for parents will be stretching their voices to accommodate the gigantic fonts in which Ruby speaks. (Keep a glass of water handy. Maybe a few breathing exercises before you start.)
For readers who are charmed by the kinds of heroines who are unafraid of making their very distinct presences felt, Ruby will happily join Lilly, Eloise, and Olivia on the bookshelf.
Thank heaven for loud-mouthed little girls.
• Yvonne Zipp is a freelance writer in Kalamazoo, Mich.