cover image When I Wore My Sailor Suit

When I Wore My Sailor Suit

Uri Shulevitz, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-34749-9

In this story based on one of the author's childhood memories, the titular suit worn by the boy narrator gives him the courage to embark on a swashbuckling adventure, scaling tall mountains (stairs that lead to a friendly neighbor's apartment), steering a ship through a deadly storm and avoiding the evocatively named Malenostro Malevostro, “pirate of one hundred seas!” The fantasy comes to an abrupt halt when a portrait on the wall spooks the boy, but eventually he realizes that's he's in control of his own imagination. “You can't leave this wall, you can't leave this room,” he says to the painting, “but I can go far away on an exciting journey.” This is not stellar Shulevitz: the imaginary world never coalesces into visual excitement, and the emotional resonance falls short of How I Learned Geography . More important, there's no historical framing (think of William Steig's When Everyone Wore a Hat ) to nudge readers toward empathy, helping them understand how an outfit that may look pretty lame to contemporary eyes was actually the equivalent of their own Transformers or ninja costume. Ages 4–8. (Sept.)