The Best Things in Life are Free

The Peddler and the Baker – by Yael Molchadsky, illustrated by Liora Grossman, Green Bean Books, 2020

When you open the cover of The Peddler and the Baker, you will find there, and on the next two pages, softly colored two-tone images of baking utensils.  This lovely picture book is not actually about baking, but the carefully placed cutting boards, sieves, measuring spoons and rolling pins whet your appetite for the story. (The back matter does include a wonderful recipe for challah.)

Children enter a timeless walled city in the Middle East where camels and wagons serve as transportation and familiar Jewish character types ply their trades: peddler, baker, rabbi.  Yael Molchadsky‘s convincing and accessible text, along with Liora Grossman’s evocative pictures, set the book apart as an appealing new version for young readers of a core lesson from Pirke Avot/Ethics of the Fathers: the rich person is one who is contented with what he has.

Everyone, including children, knows how good baked goods smell, so readers will instantly identify with the humble peddler who is thrilled upon waking just to catch the scents from the nearby bakery. While they might be more confused as to why a man who is so poor that he can barely support himself, Molchadsky’s words are compelling: “Hurray for a new day and for the delicious smell that floats my way.”  If the peddler is a man so enchanted by the ability to find happiness through the use of his senses, his neighbor the baker is the opposite.  Obsessed with material gain and certain that his labor entitles him to charge a fee for the very air the peddler breathes, kids will recognize him for what he is: a selfish bully.  The false dichotomy which he constructs will be familiar to any child who has ever been on the wrong end of such a person’s power: “Get your nose away from that window! I work hard to knead the dough…You just stand there and enjoy my work for free!”

Then there’s the rabbi. At first, when he sentences the poor peddler to work extra hard in order to resolve the issue with the baker, readers may wonder about this man’s qualifications as clergy. Looking around his office, there are some good signs.  His shelves are almost collapsing with books, and he requires a cane in order to walk.  Two small children lean from a staircase to listen to the rabbi’s plan; although the rabbi might not notice them, his benign expression implies tolerance of the vulnerable.  Grossman’s depiction of the baker and peddler deferring to the rabbi’s authority is a study in contrast and kids will not miss her point.  While the baker is a large man, the peddler is thin and delicate.  The baker wears a scowl on his face and his hands are place on his hips is anger.  The peddler bends his head in humility and clasps his hands together behind his back.  Justice will clearly prevail and, when it does, readers will feel relief and assurance that the world works as it should.

To depict the wonders of Shabbat, Grossman switches to a color palette of violet, blue and pink, a world of unlimited happiness and social justice, affirmed in the rabbi’s words: “Many wonderful things are given in this world for free…Soon it will be Shabbat – a day of rest. This special day was also given to us…young and old, rich and poor, man and animal alike.”  That should be enough to put the baker in his place, and the dénouement, showing a peaceful city bathed in the light of Shabbat candles, is a vision of social equality for readers young and old. 

The Great Escape

The Barnabus Project – by the Fan Brothers with Devin Fan (Terry, Eric, and Devin Fan), Tundra Books, 2020

Imagine a small mutant animal, imprisoned in an underground lab which is the only home he has ever known.  Life is not bad; his bell jar is easy to maintain and he receives regular meals of cheese and peanuts delivered by the Green Rubber Suits. His friends are all similarly trapped and equally provided with the necessities of life. 

One day Barnabus, half mouse and half elephant, starts to think.  Once creatures recognize that they are not free, there is no turning back.  Encouraged by stories from Pip the cockroach about the world above the lab, Barnabus decides to liberate himself and his friends.  Part adventure, part parable, and totally evocative work of art, the Fan Brothers’ new book is unforgettable in its originality. 

Children are sensitive to the idea of imperfection. Maybe a toy is broken, but still beloved.  Maybe they don’t always seen to fit in themselves; like Barnabus, they might enjoy security by long for freedom.  Part of the appeal of this book is that Barnabus and his equally quirky companions are vulnerable, but not pathetic.  The illustrations evoke dreams, both good and bad, fantastic fiction and classic works of children’s literature. 

There is a sense of balance as carefully planned and achieved as the animals’ escape from their controlled environment and exodus to a world of freedom. A nighttime city skyline in dark blue and gray or backlit with sun in the daytime alternate with images of the creatures themselves, encased in glass on shelves or emerging from broken glass and experimenting with freedom.

Who are these strange beings? They are “Failed Projects,” a collection of factory seconds doomed to the life of lab rats as the Green Rubber Suits use them to come up with something better, something lucrative, the Perfect Pets sold to lucky kids in toy stores. Since children know that they might initially prefer these heavily promoted items, with “fur like cotton candy” and vacant eyes, they will relate to the idea that the Failed Projects face a dismal future.  But in the end, defective or oddball toys might be the ones that stick around: Mushroom Sloth, Pinto, Spike, the Bottle Mogs, Stick One and Stick Two all have names right out of child’s imagination. But first, they have to prove themselves in a courageous fight against the forces of evil, before they find a haven in “a place that might be home.” It’s not just a story; it’s a project. The Barnabus Project asks kids to participate in knocking off chains and celebrating what it means to be different, wanted, and free.

In a House in the City in Two Straight Lines

The City Girls – by Aki (Delphine Mach), Henry Holt and Company, 2020

No, they are not Madeline and her companions.  There is no Miss Clavel and they don’t always walk in two straight lines en route to their destinations. They are Laura, Miffy, Annie, Rebecca, Jane, Vanessa, June, Melanie, Sarah, Cathleen, Lucy, Zoe, Kirsten, Tilly, Joy, and Emily.  This is their third appearance, having enjoyed very different environments in both The Weather Girls and The Nature Girls. While Aki’s books about them are certainly an homage of sorts to Ludwig Bemelmans, they are very much their own independent characters, joyfully exploring the world.

The city of the book’s title might be Paris, New York, London, or any number of other metropolises worldwide.  The point is, it’s a city, full of the wonders or urban life seen through the eyes of children who are anything but jaded.  Even watching the sunrise from the roof of their apartment building, or having a sleepover on that roof at nighttime, are exciting adventures.

The girls are from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Some wear glasses.  They all wear yellow raincoats in most of the book, a definite nod to Bemelmans, but they wear blue pants and t-shirts of varying designs when they visit the park and a colorful array of pajamas for their slumber party.  The text is composed of simple rhyme, with color and font style changed for variety and sometimes to reflect what they are doing at a particular time. (Crossing a bridge in the park, the line “The sun is setting” features letters arching like a bridge.)

Unlike the many picture books that offer tours of the world’s great cities, the City Girls inhabit a deliberately generic location. Generic does not connote blandness, however.  Their oversized tour bus races through a downtown where “Dance,” “Fun,” and “Karaoke” signs invite visitors, along with a giant fish and a smiling bowl with pasta and flowers emerging from its top.

The girls’ trip to an art museum has them watching with rapt attention as docents explain pictures that are not exactly Mondrian or Miró, but rather works inspired by them.  I also love the elegant older woman docent, with grey hair, pearls, and a bright red cardigan, and her younger male counterpart with a scruffy beard. Some of the little girls (Zoe, Sarah, and Cathleen,) turn away from the presentation to wave greetings at a different group of students wearing green tops and blue pants.  Color is a key part of life for the City Girls.

There are many other moments where the City Girls are both part of a group and individuals. Boarding the clean and orderly subway (not New York?), Tilly looks aside to watch a mouse eating a slice of pizza.  At the Eggsquisite café, serving just one delicious food, Melanie waves to a customer enjoying his coffee at a table while his dog eats at ground level. Young readers will see themselves reflected in these little girls, for whom each part of the day is a new opportunity to both learn and have fun.  The “More to Explore” section at the end of the book includes further information about the different resources of city life.  Caregivers reading with children may also use the book as an introduction to the unique attractions of their own cities and towns, or to ones in other parts of the world.  Meanwhile, Lucy, Sarah, Rebecca, and friends are off to another day.

Checking In

No Vacancy – by Tziporah Cohen, Groundwood Books, 2020

Miriam Brockman is an eleven-year-old New Yorker who has just been exiled to upstate New York. Out of a job, her father has purchased the run-down Jewel Motor Inn in the town of Greenvale, population 514, intending to build up a viable source of income for their family.  Not exactly a dream come true for Miriam, the situation seems somewhat more hopeful when she quickly makes friends with Kate, whose grandparents run the diner next door to the Brockman’s new home and workplace.  Miriam is Jewish, Kate is Catholic, and together they devise a scheme to save the motel.  Readers might be surprised to learn that this plot involves a vision of the Virgin Mary, but less surprised that questions of ethnic and religious identity, as well as family conflicts, emerge in this engaging story.

One of the most interesting aspects of the books is the care with which the author characterizes the particular religious culture of each family.  Miriam’s family observes Shabbat with a special dinner but little ritual.  When they attend synagogue, they drive there, and, although they refrain from eating certain foods which are not kosher, they happily eat in non-kosher restaurants.  When Miriam’s Uncle Mordy arrives, his level of observance is much more traditional, quite different from his extended family’s. Kate and her family attend church weekly, but apparently Kate only confesses to a priest at Easter time.  In other words, there are contradictions in both families.  Where some readers might see inconsistencies, to me they seemed internally consistent with the characters’ lives.  When the Virgin Mary project develops, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but within a narrative where Miriam is constantly questioning what it means to be Jewish and how secure she feels in publicizing her identity.

A sub-plot involves Miriam’s friendship with María, a young Mexican-American woman who both teaches Miriam Spanish and offers her the emotional support of an older sister.  (I was also impressed that the author was careful to check the Spanish for accuracy.) Cohen takes care to provide perspective about each individual’s personal struggles.  While Miriam relates to a visitor to the motel who has a disability partly because of a phobia which makes her own life difficult, the two challenges are presented as parallel, but not equivalent.  All the characters’ vulnerabilities interact in the narrative: psychological, physical, financial, religious.  Throughout the book, the author’s respect for young readers is apparent, as she encourages them to think about difficult and painful parts of growing up.

The book’s resolution does not seem inevitable. In fact, different readers may find it more or less plausible, given the environment where this Lourdes in the New York Finger Lakes takes place.  The community seems close and accepting, but apparently not immune to the ugly specter of hatred. In the end, some readers may feel that the consequences of actions, ranging from destructive to unthinking, might have been more fully explored.  But the novel’s ambiguities are evidence of the author’s serious attempt to raise difficult questions.  A visit to the Jewel Motor Inn is definitely worth the trip.

Your Home Away from Home

Your House, My House – by Marianne Dubuc, Kids Can Press, 2020

Marianne Dubuc is a Canadian author and illustrator whose books have been published in both French and English.  Her books feature detailed and fanciful depictions of the both the natural world and busy communities populated by anthropomorphic animals.  Her latest book, Your House, My House, invites young readers into a gracious multifamily structure, 3 Maple Street, where Little Rabbit is about to celebrate his birthday.  Like a dollhouse, the building is visible as a cutaway section, with lots going on simultaneously from kitchen to attic.  Readers can pay attention to one room at a time or choose to take in the whole bustling hive of different but also related families.

One moment of action includes a cat unloading packages from a truck at one entrance to the house, while a fox sweeps his way over to the descending spiral staircase at the other.  No wonder he is cleaning; the mother fox is pregnant, standing beside a crib with mobile while her first child clings to her.  Next door, a bear in polka dot pajamas talks on a phone, anachronistically tethered to a curled wire.  On the first floor, a young hedgehog draws pictures on the floor while a parent waters plants; the mouse family two stories up is less tidy, with lots of clutter next to the triple bunk beds for their larger family.  Turning the pages, we gradually learn more about these and other connected characters.  A doctor-dog pays a house call to the bear in pajamas, and the little fox needs to go stay with the rabbit family temporarily.  Children will delight in following the simple plot lines, all the while waiting to see how the birthday party turns out.  There are also witty cameo appearances by beloved folk tale characters.

Adult readers may immediately call to mind the work of Richard Scarry, as well as to contemporary artist like Britta Teckentrup and Rotraut Susanne Berner.  Each illustrator in this genre is different; Dubuc’s books combine a clear narrative unfolding in one location, surprising readers with links among different residents of the house, as well as alluding to the literary legacy of folklore (such as Little red Riding Hood, below). The figures are and their surroundings are delicate and gentle.  Everyone is friendly and the support of family and neighbors is presented as a normal part of life in their community.  A cycling turtle keeps safe with his helmet and Little Rabbit remembers to bring a piece of cake to the recovering bear.  Dubuc’s tone of comfort and security, along with her brightly colored scenes of everyday life punctuated with a little excitement, make Your House, My House, a place where children will feel at home.

Uplifting for Kids

Lift – by Minh Lê, illustrated by Dan Santat, Disney Hyperion, 2020

If you live in an apartment building with your family, imagine your frustration if your child deliberately pushed all the buttons in the elevator. Would you feel more understanding towards her if you knew that she had been driven to this annoying act of protest by sibling rivalry? This situation is the premise of Minh Lê’s and Dan Santat’s fantastic picture book, Lift.

Both meticulously realistic in its portrayal of ordinary childhood resentments, and gloriously imaginative as an ode to worlds of imaginary escape, Lift features a rebellious but kind kid with loving parents who somehow seem unfair.  Children will identify with Iris, the girl who just can’t let her brother take over that important job of elevator transportation.

Comic book format allows the plot to unfold with a minimum of exposition.  Characters’ faces have minimal details but expressive power, as in the scene showing the aftermath of Iris’s button pulling stunt, after her toddler brother is allowed to fulfill his dream of pushing the button in the elevator.  Her mother is furious, an adult woman with her hand splayed over her own face in frustration. Iris’s father looks almost resigned, as he holds his son, along with the toy tiger that never seems to leave the little boy’s arms. Iris’s face is a terrifying scowl; her pigtails stick out from her head like horns. There is no dialogue on this page, only the “tap” of buttons and the “ding” of the elevator’s bell.

One feature of the book with appeal for both young children and their adult readers is the use of repeated motifs and images.  When Iris learns that a discarded elevator button panel opens the door to a universe of natural wonders, that stuffed tiger shows up as a real beast, and the friendly babysitter’s outer space board game becomes a real planetary voyage.  Nighttime scenes are bathed in blue and black, while everyday activities have a soft, limited color palette, stressing the contrast between the two worlds.  When Iris discovers empathy, not through her parents’ anger but by recognizing her little brother’s vulnerability, readers feel relief, but Iris has not been socialized into accepting the boring requirements of adult expectations.  As she stands with the back to the reader, holding her brother’s hand, both children face the door to open-ended adventure.  The book evokes every disjuncture between reality and possibility in children’s literature: Narnia, Wonderland, Oz, a magical tollbooth, Clara’s kingdom of sweets.  In Lê and Santat’s version of imaginary powers, childhood is safe, parents are protective, and younger brothers don’t destroy beloved toys.  Still, children need to step outside once in a while.

Laboring for Change

Thanks to Frances Perkins: Fighter for Workers’ Rights – by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell, Peachtree Publishing, 2020

If you ask many Americans who was the first woman to serve in a president’s cabinet, many may not know.  Deborah Hopkinson and Kristy Caldwell new picture book biography introduces Frances Perkins, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor, to young readers and also to older ones. Even adults who vaguely remember that Perkins served in FDR’s cabinet will gain a new vision of her passionate and persistent advocacy for change, and her deep commitment to a dignified life for American workers.  The “thanks” of the title are indeed in order, today more than ever.

Hopkinson (I’ve reviewed two other books by her about courageous people on this blog and for Jewish Book Council, and she herself blogged about it recently for School Library Journal) invites readers into the story of Perkins’ life by posing “two math questions,” neither one obviously relevant to the uninitiated reader.  This introduction, and the rest of the text, highlight the author’s deep understanding of how to interest children in an unfamiliar topic, emphasizing its relevance to their own lives.  Perhaps they assumed that when people grown older and retire from gainful employment, they simply continue to live their lives unchanged.  Hopkinson explains that this is not so, and that a real person, a pioneering woman, was behind the progress than led to Social Security. Caldwell’s delicately drawn but vibrant pictures portray each person in the book, Perkins herself as well as unknown workers, as distinct individuals. Her story is a compelling combination of American, labor, and women’s history, unfolding against the background of one woman determined to help effect change.

A scene of busy urban life pairs with simple explanations of Perkins’ crusade.  The author defines the term “sweatshop,” and asserts with careful understatement that “Workers had few rights or benefits.”

Men, women, and children in the background are busily engaged in their daily activities, calling to mind classic Japanese painting filled with detailed images of court life.  Through a window, we see women factory workers at their tasks.  The pictures are a quiet and unobtrusive record of what workers endured. Hopkinson records how Perkins’ consciousness was raised by the horrifying Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and by labor activist Rose Schneiderman’s stirring calls for action. By the time Perkins meets with New York legislator Alfred E. Smith, she has focused on a plan; Hopkinson’s judicious use of direct quotes helps to make Perkins’ ideas accessible.  As Smith and Perkins observe first-hand the trauma of child labor, her conviction seems even more real.  Again, Caldwell’s drawing of young children lugging boxes and operating machinery is almost minimalist.  She does not depict the worse abuses, but rather a barefoot boy slipping in a puddle of water and the crude patch on a girl’s torn blouse.

There is nothing super-human about Perkins.  She keeps track of ideas by scribbling them on small pieces of paper and rejects various other names before deciding on the best one for her visionary Social Security program.  Children follow the process by which change takes place, through both incremental steps and great bravery, “little by little, step by step, using her heart and her mind.” 

The image of weary activists staying awake all night to complete a goal reiterates how difficult and plodding revolutionary work can be, while the tender picture of Perkins bending down to be at eye level with a young child affirms that she is motivated by compassion. The culminating scene offers a cameo appearance by FDR himself, signing the Social Security Act with his signature flourish. In a room full of men in grey and tan suits, Perkins stands modestly in her sharp navy suit and pearls. Sometimes it takes a woman to get the job done!  Hopkinson also includes a useful “Author’s Note” with photos, list of additional sources, and the answer to her original math questions.  Thanks to Frances Perkins is a perfect vehicle for discussing women’s roles in change we can believe in.

Alone or Lonely? The Bear & Madame Odette

The Invisible Bear – written and illustrated by Cécile Metzger, Tundra Books, 2020

The Invisible Bear is a picture book full of beautiful ambiguity.  Since many young children accept the premise that an imaginary friend or a toy can be as real as a member of their own family.  They also understand loneliness, and they often feel a connection to old people.  Cécile Metzger alludes to all of these childhood truths in both the text and the ink and watercolor illustrations of her new book.  Readers enter the quiet and monochrome world of a possibly invisible bear, but later discover Madame Odette’s complementary world of bright flowers and cozy domesticity.  These two worlds each have their own dreamlike reality.

There is a difference between lonely and alone; Metzger’s bear, a large white creature pictured against a sepia background, seems a little sad: “No one ever came to see him,/and he lived all alone in his colorless world.” His day is characterized by a busy routine: waking to an alarm clock, cooking, drinking tea, while rain mysteriously falls on him from a small cloud suspended over his head. 

His life is radically altered when a grandmotherly woman, Madame Odette, comes to live next door. All of a sudden, pink green, and red take over the pages, as Madame Odette is the loving caretaker of flowers, dragonflies, and potted plants.  If the bear is solitary, Madame Odette is the opposite; “She lived in a/cheerful world of color and sound.”  

Yet Madame Odette’s world is as empty of companionship as the bear’s.  There are no other humans, only a cat.  The difference is that she seems perfectly content, chopping vegetables, talking on an old-fashioned dial phone, and lounging in an antique bathtub with feet. She has a radio out of the nineteen-forties, cheerfully emitting pink musical notes.  Her world and the bears are not opposites, but parallel to one another.

Neither has friends, but Madame Odette seems to be happy as long as she is nurturing plants and creating beauty with them. Her rustic house features plants in every window and a wooden weather vane. A few items of clothing hanging on the wash line are the main evidence of human habitation.   One day, Madame confronts an emergency.  A lack of water threatens her plants, and the bear decides to intervene, bringing friendship along with water.

The book’s ending is enigmatic. The bear’s life has changed; “And his gray world would never be the same again.” There are many questions to discuss with children about Madame Odette’s lasting impact, the difference between loneliness and solitude, and the ways in which people (and bears) do and do not change.  Some of us carry a portable rain cloud, and others can seemingly provide beauty and comfort to the rest.  The bear may be invisible, but the book’s message just requires some patient contemplation.

“Yes, we are small. But there are a lot of us.”

The Little Guys – written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol, Roaring Book Press, 2019

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This isn’t actually a book about resistance or about strength in numbers. Then again, maybe it is.  Part of the appeal of Vera Brosgol’s The Little Guys is the ambiguity of its message, or at least, the way the author and artist surprises readers expecting a more confident assertion of strength in numbers.  Once you have read it, it’s hard to get its refrain out of your mind, or to look at other small and comic species in other children’s books without seeing these acorn-capped creatures, at first so sure of themselves, and then, transformed by at least a little bit of self-knowledge. It isn’t easy to describe the impact of this funny, weird, and rhythmic story.

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Brosgol is an author and illustrator of both picture books and graphic novels.  The text of The Little Guys is brief.  An army of small beings go about their daily business, having introduced themselves as “the strongest guys in the whole forest.”  Readers are ready to welcome them and to endorse their communal philosophy: “Yes, we are small.  But there are a lot of us./Together we are strong, and we can get all we need.”  But if you think you are going to enjoy a paean to solidarity, somewhat like Leo Lionni’s Swimmy, you are instead going to learn that these Little Guys might have an inflated sense of their own worth and, worse, will not hesitate to push others around.

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The pictures are whimsical and also full of allusions to fairy tales and film.  The long line of Little Guys holding hands in the “big, dark forest” recall the dancing mushrooms of Disney’s Fantasia. The forest animals, from little birds to a frightened owl to a parent and child bear duo about to enjoy a nice meal of fish, could populate the sweetest children’s film or story book or the darkest folk tale.  In either case, they are no match for the Little Guys. The font gets bigger as they become increasingly more threatening, chanting their now menacing slogans: “None for you! All for us! Hand it over to the Little Guys!”

Eventually, the book switches into reverse.  Maybe even a large number of Little Guys with overblown expectations are still little.  Maybe recognizing that they need to share is a better bet than assaulting bears. The relief that readers will feel at the end is tempered by the knowledge of how far the Little Guys got in their previous incarnation as an out-of-control army.  Is this a cautionary tale about fascism?  If so, Brosgol emphasizes how fragile the continuum is of finding all you need for yourself, denying it to others, and finally accepting the need to share.  We are small. And yes, there are a lot of us.

A Bewitching Tale with Pictures

Lucy Crisp and the Vanishing House – written, and with illustrations by, Janet Hill, Tundra Books, 2020

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Lucy Crisp is just a sharp and creative young woman with a few loose ends to tie together. She is living in New York City with her restaurant critic father and doing temp work at a florist shop, but her future is unsure.  When her employer suggests she look into a floristry program at the intriguingly named upstate educational institution, Ladywyck Lodge, it seems like a good solution to her aimless second gap year. As it turns out, the town of Esther Wren, where Ladywyck Lodge is located, is a cauldron of supernatural activity.  Lucy moves into her new house and soon is confronted with some unsettling and unexplained phenomena. The book is a mystery, an exploration of character, a bit philosophical, and frequently funny.  Paired with Janet Hill’s inimitable illustrations, readers are immersed in a world where the difference between an enchantment and a haunting becomes quite significant.

Janet Hill’s literary and artistic styles (reviewed previously here and here) are a striking combination of ingredients: Oscar Wilde meets Agatha Christie plus the Pre-Raphaelites and Maira Kalman.  The novel is not a parody and its careful resolution is not the mere solution of a puzzle.  Lucy is a believable person with whom readers will identify.  Who hasn’t overlooked obvious pitfalls in pursuit of a goal?  Her intensely visual imagination finds its counterpart in Hill’s lovely prose: “Putting her wretched brownies on display would not only be an embarrassment to her but would also be an insult to all the other desserts on the table, including the really old date cake.”  Some of her phrases are elegant shorthand for the universe, such as one character’s disquisition on the differences between coffee and tea: “Scarlett explained that most Goodies disliked coffee, but the Baddies appreciated it – so much so that some believed it actually enhanced their abilities.” That makes sense, doesn’t it?

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Lucy’s quest for independence from her father is also present throughout the book.  He is always there to bail her out, with his practical skepticism and his calming explanations, but Lucy needs to work things out for herself.  She also needs to negotiate relationships with her peers, with other adult authority figures, and with the inevitable crush who may not actually be what he seems.  Lucy is persistent in her path towards both discovering the source of her house’s strange events, and in discovering what it is she actually wants to do with her life.

 

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It is not easy to construct a novel with illustrations.  It not a picture book, yet the pictures must still advance the story and not serve just as decorations.  Lucy’s quirky fashion sense, her house’s inner and outer instability and the mysterious teenagers, who hover on the lawn exuding a feeling of potential evil, all give the reader an evocative picture of this mysterious world.  Lucy seated at her desk, her back to the reader, is a serious and dedicated working girl, any young professional intent upon her career, while her white dressed neighbors are a vision of adolescence gone awry.

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Lucy’s brave ascent towards the Victorian house, which will be the site of so much mayhem, could be a brave heroine in a nineteenth century novel,while the armchair covered in a bunny pattern is one piece of evidence that something strange is happening.  The nostalgia-laden snow globe scene is Hill at her best, alluding to tradition but personalizing it, as the tiny sunglasses of the station wagon’s passenger look towards the reader, not knowing what to expect.  Hill has translated that visual sense of the uncanny into Lucy Crisp’s adventure.

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