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?
By Renata Liwska
Philomel. $16.99, ages 3-5
Rendered in the softest possible pencil strokes and the palest pastel tints, this tender story of a feisty little fox and her animal friends — a hedgehog, rabbit, bear, raccoon and mouse — will surely satisfy the diminutive demographic that longs to leave home, but only if there’s a nap at the end of the adventure. Lucy’s new red wagon bespeaks independence, but Mama thinks it means a shopping list and a trip to the market. Never mind. Lucy and her sidekicks manage to work in a pirate trip on the high seas, an overland trek in a Conestoga wagon, a whirl through a circus ring, a chug up the hill in an old-fashioned train and a rocket ship ride into space. Good cozy fun for one and all that ends where it began in that most versatile of vehicles, with Lucy sound asleep.
LOST & FOUND
By Shaun Tan
Arthur A. Levine. $21.99, ages 10-adult
Shaun Tan’s recent Oscar win for the short animated film “The Lost Thing” will surely pique interest in this omnibus edition, which includes that story and two earlier ones by the master of all things curious. In “The Red Tree,” an unnamed young girl drags herself through a life filled with darkness. Unsettling images abound: A giant fish shares the street with oblivious pedestrians; a sealed bottle imprisoning a tiny aquanaut washes up on an empty beach. But all is not lost, for “suddenly there it is right in front of you/ bright and vivid/ quietly waiting.” The “it” is a fiery tree, blooming at bedside as unexplained and mysterious as all that went before it. In “The Lost Thing” a large, red, prickly-headed, bulbous creature walks through town on pointy gray tentacles. Enter the Federal Department of Odds and Ends (motto: “sweepus underum carpetae”), which turns out to be exactly the wrong solution. The final story, “The Rabbits,” may be a parable about the loss of indigenous cultures or just a tale about wildlife run amok. As the narrator of “The Lost Thing” remarks, “Don’t ask me what the moral is.” In Tan’s oblique world, the story takes place in that interactive space between the reader and the page.
A Cat Tale Told in Haiku
By Lee Wardlaw
Illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Henry Holt. $16.99, ages 4-8
The fur-whorled endpapers of this loving but unsentimental ode to adoption almost invite petting. Won Ton, a smoke-gray cat with vivid blue eyes, is a resident of “The Shelter: Nice place they got here. Bed. Bowl. Blankie. Just like home! Or so I’ve been told.” Throughout each successive chapter readers are treated to a cat’s-eye view of humans and their foibles: “The Choosing,” “The Car Ride” (“Letmeoutletme/ outletmeoutletmeout./ Wait — let me back in!”), “The Naming,” “The New Place (“Deep, dark bed cave. Me?/ Hiding? I’m no scaredy-cat!/ I like dust bunnies!”), all the way through to “Home” (“Your tummy, soft as/ warm dough. I knead and knead, then/ bake it with a nap.”). Eugene Yelchin’s sinuous draftsmanship, playful perspectives and sunny palette provide just the right counterpoint to this tale of a cat with attitude to spare.