cover image Aunt Skilly and the Stranger

Aunt Skilly and the Stranger

Kathleen Stevens. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-68712-3

Stevens's ( The Beast in the Bathtub ) well-made, Appalachian-flavored tale is a natural candidate for reading aloud. Aunt Skilly, an old woman, is visited by a shady stranger from the wrong side of Which-Way Mountain just as she's airing out the handmade quilts she plans to sell next day to the peddler. Children will be intrigued--and pleasurably put on edge--by the adroit manner in which the mule-riding stranger elicits the information that the quilts are valuable and that Aunt Skilly has no guard dog, no nearby neighbors, no bar on her door. Parker's ( Pop Corn and Ma Goodness ; Full Worm Moon ) squiggly, airy, full-spread watercolor-and-pen illustrations bolster the author's carefully plotted twists and surprises. The abrupt appearance of frames around the short-sentenced, night-toned scenes of the attempted crime adds to suspense; resumption of full-scale art as the thief is foiled aids the flow of the resolution. As excellently wrought as its heroine's handiwork, this tale is filled with wry particulars (e.g., Aunt Skilly's gray goose, Buckle, at first appears to have more sense than his mistress) and atmospheric details (a ``flickering fat-pine stick'' lights up the yard at night). Skillful indeed. Ages 4-7. (Aug.)