cover image Here Comes the Mystery Man

Here Comes the Mystery Man

Scott Russell Sanders, JR. Thomas Sanders. Atheneum Books, $15.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-02-778145-8

Sanders spins an invitingly atmospheric tale about a rural family in early-19th-century Indiana. The four Goodwin children and their parents savor the semiannual visit from the peddler, who stays to supper and spends the night. To them he is a ``mystery man.'' He heralds his arrival with notes sounded on a silver flute, tells wondrous stories and bears treasures that conjure up faraway places: fragrant spices, silk shawls, ivory combs, even a whale's tooth. Sanders's gentle chronicle communicates the excitement that members of such an isolated community must have felt at the sight of a visitor; moreover, he weaves in suggestive facts about pioneer life. For example, an aside lists the children's morning chores, ``fish to catch, grapes to gather, hogs to chase in the woods''; the peddler describes the newly invented steamboat, ``a boat that runs on fire.'' Cogancherry (who illustrated Sanders's Warm as Wool ) floods her large watercolors with warm autumnal tones. Her palette becomes repetitious, however, and the flavor of her pictures edges on the saccharine. It is Sanders who imbues the volume with its pervasive sense of mystery amid the everyday. Ages 5-10. (Sept.)