These five new picture books are human-size stories made by human hands. The evidence: raw brush strokes, bleeding paint, pencil marks left untouched. Somehow that makes all the difference as the young characters in these stories try to find their way into the confusing adult world. The handmade artistry of these books helps to illuminate and animate children’s feelings of wonder, loss and determination.
The story in JiHyeon Lee’s wordless DOOR (Chronicle, 56 pp., $17.99; ages 4 to 8) starts on the frontispiece: A boy finds a key. A strange little insect leads him wandering among gray, drab people to a cobweb-draped door, apparently unopened for years. On the other side, they enter a land of blossoming trees, fantastical creatures, polka-dot food. The boy slowly sheds his grayness for pink, red and green. A bit Alice in Wonderland; but, truly, JiHyeon Lee, who gave us the delightful “Pool” (also wordless), is a unique and wildly imaginative talent — an original. The illustrations, in pencil, are whimsical, reserved, buoyant, childlike, expert. In a remarkable six-page layout of doors and doors and doors, we see worlds connect and intersect as creatures enter and exit, laughing, playing, even getting married. Language (dialogue is drawn in nonsense squiggles) isn’t a barrier. Neither are appearances. This land is a joyous celebration of differences and likenesses and harmony — and so is this magical book.
How could you not love a deliciously pink elephant named Poe? Unfortunately, the townspeople of Prickly Valley do not. In POE WON’T GO (Disney-Hyperion, 40 pp., $17.99; ages 4 to 8), written by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, a rather large elephant has plunked himself right in the middle of the only road in town. This is a delightful children’s fable in the form of a humorous news story. The colorful illustrations look like retro linocut prints, while the hand-drawn text brings to life the atmosphere of panic in Prickly Valley. The townspeople try everything to get rid of Poe: They attempt to bribe him with cheese, they hire a magician to make him disappear, they tie a hundred balloons to his limbs. The mayor arrives with her committees and councils and Styrofoam cups and real-life politics.
In the end, throwing everything at the problem does not solve it — a little kindness does. It comes in the shape of a small girl, Marigold. She saves the day by asking Poe why he won’t go (in elephant of course). For the first time, Poe smiles. Marigold puts her ear to his forehead, listens carefully, then explains, “He’s waiting for a friend.” The friend is a monkey wearing a polka-dot tie. Poe tips his black fedora and leaves with the monkey on his shoulder. At the end of the story, the reader is asked, “I wonder where they’ll go?” (Let’s hope it is a wonderful place where animals gather in dapper get-ups.)