THE SECRET RIVER
By Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon
Atheneum. $19.99, ages 4-8
The Dillons’ lush illustrations burnish this new edition of a 1956 Newbery Honor title with an elegant rustic glow. Add to that a generous trim size, handsome page design and thick, creamy paper, and you’ve gone a long way toward revitalizing a text that seems a bit long and leisurely for the format. Determined young Calpurnia, worried when her father declares, “Hard times have come to the forest,” sets out on a quest with her faithful dog, Buggy-horse, to find a secret river where the fish are plentiful. In true fairy-tale fashion, she seeks advice from a wise woman, catches almost more fish than she can carry home, gives some away to those she meets on the return journey, and succeeds in turning hard times back into “soft times.” Full-page images surrounded by expansive borders evoke the old-fashioned plates found in classics from an earlier era, a formal style that is relieved by the tiny, scattered vignettes and snapshot-sized scenes decorating almost every page. Careful eyes will delight in spotting mysterious details embedded in this dreamy tale of danger and reward.
By Stephen Savage
Scholastic. $16.99, ages 3-5
This sophisticated send-up of another well-known seek-and-find series is for kids who want their books — even wordless ones — to include a soupcon of story. Walrus is a sly creature, and when we first meet him, he’s winking at the audience. The camera rolls back to reveal him incarcerated in a torpid zoo — but not for long. Escaping easily, he leads the lackadaisical zookeeper on a merry chase, donning a chic red hat to mug with the mannequins in a store window; holding up a hose in a line of firemen; even easing behind an easel alongside the artists in the park to paint a portrait of — who else? — the zookeeper himself. But when he wins a medal in a diving competition, the keeper realizes that it’s acclaim as much as freedom that our finny friend seeks, and the final scene is identical to the opening one with the addition of a diving board — and a host of admiring onlookers. Clean lines, blocks of color and carefully patterned layouts mean that Walrus — though apparently invisible to the clueless keeper — is always hiding in plain sight, a perfect gambit that allows young readers to feel one-up on the adult who’s supposedly in charge. What more could any child want?