Kate Coombs

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Strange Real-Life Secrets

The Secret-Keeper

written by Kate Coombs
illustrated by Heather Solomon

Atheneum, New York 2006
ISBN-10: 0689839634 / ISBN-13: 978-0689839634
(For readers ages 6 to 99)

Kalli was the secret-keeper of Maldinga.

Every day the people of Maldinga straggled through the woods to the clearing where Kalli's cottage stood. They came one by one, never in twos or threes. And one by one, they told Kalli their secrets...

Honors and Awards

  • A Junior Library Guild pick
  • A Parents' Choice Recommended book for 2006
  • A 2007 Storytelling World Honor Book
  • One of 10 nominees for Vermont's Red Clover Children's Choice Picture Book Awards, 2007-2008
  • International Reading Association (IRA) Book Award Notable, 2007

From the Publisher

In the village of Maldinga, anyone troubled by a secret knows just where to take it—by following the winding path through the woods to Kalli's cottage. Tailors and farmers, marriage-makers and bakers—almost everyone comes to see Kalli, for she is the village secret-keeper, and over the years she has stored hundreds of secrets. But one long winter, Kalli falls ill, and the weight of the hidden secrets begins to catch up with her. Spring brings the curious villagers, who wonder what ails their secret-keeper. The time has come for them to help Kalli and for her to learn some unexpected secrets. Is it possible not all secrets are sad? And could someone have a secret that's just for Kalli?

An original fairy tale as beautifully illustrated as it is told, The Secret-Keeper is a book to share with everyone.

From the Critics

from Kirkus Reviews

Solomon's lovely watercolors, framed with jewel-toned borders, varied in size, shape and placement on heavy creamy paper, add fascinating details and emotional depth to this gentle jewel of a tale that will prompt discussion on the sharing of secrets, good and bad.

from Booklist

Set in an enchanting village, this story about the burden of secrets is buoyed by Solomon's gorgeous illustrations and the often-lovely language used by first-time author Coombs.
Reviewer: Abby Nolan

from School Library Journal

The illustrations are an intriguing blend of paint and collage that exude texture and depth. Illuminating oil colors contrast with the softer and more muted watercolors. Expressive faces and postures individualize the characters, and a lovely spread shows the villagers celebrating Kalli's recovery. An uplifting modern fairy tale.
Reviewer: Kirsten Cutler, Sonoma Library, CA

from Children's Literature

Charming paintings in muted watercolor tones appear in various sizes throughout the book, complementing the subtle storytelling style. A gentle book to share with young children.
Reviewer: Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.

from The Toadstool Bookshop

A beautiful, original tale about the power of secrets, and also about remembering that some secrets only have power when they're not kept secret. It's a story about community and love. The illustrations by Heather M. Solomon are wonderfully evocative additions to the fable. This is one of those children's books that deserve not to be kept secret, so share The Secret-Keeper with someone you love.
Reviewer: Don C.

from Publishers Weekly

In an intriguing premise from newcomer Coombs, Kalli is the village's secret-keeper... Solomon's (Clever Beatrice) gouaches conjure up a classic fairy-tale setting, with half-timbered buildings and craftsmen sporting blouses and smocks. Yet she also introduces post-modern elements in the quietest, most judicious places; readers can detect scanned digital images of wood grain and flower petals beneath the forest-colored gouache. In the same way, Coombs introduces 21st-century self-reflection into her otherwise traditional tale.

from The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

This original fairy tale is elegantly and tenderly told, and it avoids moralizing about the existence of secrets, instead accepting them as a fact of life... Readers who are still several years away from Sharon Shinn's The Safe-Keeper's Secret, which explores similar issues in more depth, will enjoy both the beauty and ethical weight of this picture book.

from PlanetEsme—The Best New Children's Books from Esme's Shelf (2006)

A poignant message about the weight and relief we impose upon one another by what we choose to share is at the heart of this story. Great for sharing with older children, reading this imaginative folktale is like watching a series of magic tricks. Don't keep this one a secret.
Reviewer: Esme Raji Codell, author of How to Get Your Child to Love Reading (Algonquin 2003) and Diary of a Fairy Godmother (Hyperion 2005) at Planet Esme!

from Charlotte's Library

This is the sort of picture book that is a lovely thing to give to an older child, one who can already read, but who has not yet grown dismissive of childish things. My nine-year old loved it. It is also the sort of picture book that will delight the grown-up who is not afraid to sniff a bit while reading a children's book (my husband and myself).

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