cover image Iris and Walter

Iris and Walter

Elissa Haden Guest. Harcourt Children's Books, $15 (44pp) ISBN 978-0-15-202122-1

Four gracefully paced chapters, stylish illustrations and a design that allows plenty of breathing room add up to a knockout kickoff to a beginning reader series. Guest (Girl Stuff) lays out the central conflict in the first sentence (""When Iris and Iris's family moved from the big city to the country, Iris was sad""). Davenier's (Leon and Albertine) corresponding pen-and-ink and watercolor-wash illustration takes up most of the spread: a car on a rural road drives into the sunset, as a crestfallen Iris gazes out the rear window, back toward the city. The rest of the first chapter evocatively recounts in just how many ways the girl pines for her former home (e.g., ""the long hallway where she roller-skated on rainy days""; in the illustration she appears like Alice in Wonderland bursting out of the corridor). Iris's parents try to cheer her up, but only Grandpa knows what she needs. He helps Iris discover a new friend, Walter, and soon she is savoring country life. Guest forswears a pat resolutionDthe city still occupies Iris's thoughts, conveyed with a skillful and unobtrusive use of repetition (""She dreamed of her noisy street and her wide front stoop. She dreamed of tango music and of roller skating down long hallways""). Guest's economic eloquence is in perfect sync with Davenier's elegant watercolor and ink drawings; the illustrator's urbane graphic sensibility and lush palette of blue and purple hues bring to mind vintage New Yorker covers. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)