cover image The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs

The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs

William Joyce. HarperCollins, $18.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-06-027237-1

Joyce's (Dinosaur Bob; Santa Calls) characteristically offbeat and occasionally eerie illustrations carry the day in his latest picture book fantasy. The plot travels well-worn ground--a quest, magical intervention, triumph--as a troop of tiny doodle bugs take on the evil Spider Queen to help save an elderly woman's garden from ruin. The doodle bugs call upon the diminutive Leaf Men, ""gardeners of a grand and elfin sort"" who help restore the garden to its former splendor and transport a missing childhood talisman to the ailing owner. The storytelling is uneven, particularly in its pacing, and the pictures of blue-green Leaf Men, the spiky-featured Spider Queen and lavender-blue skies will not be to every reader's taste. For many, however, the paintings will almost magically invoke a host of suggestive themes: a universe of creatures whose dramas unfold, almost out of sight, on the edge of daily life; a long-lost toy that revives an aging woman's sense of her youth; and the infinite possibility that ""anything could happen on a beautiful moonlit night."" Ages 4-8. (Sept.)