cover image THE UMBRELLA


Jan Brett, . . Putnam, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-24215-1

Inspired by the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica (according to the jacket flap), Brett's watercolor and gouache art grabs the spotlight in this tale of young Carlos, who carries an umbrella made of giant lush leaves into the forest. He sets it down in order to climb the branches of a fig tree, hoping to catch sight of certain creatures from a higher elevation. Ironically, in a cumulative plot reminiscent of The Mitten , the critters he aims to spy—among them a toucan, kinkajou, tapir, monkey and jaguar—accumulate inside his umbrella below. Brett depicts the main action in a wide horizontal scene on each spread, while leaf-shaped side panels reveal the boy scaling the tree, and preview the next animal to drop into the umbrella. Brett's vivid details—the markings of the tapir's fur, the contrasting reds and greens of the quetzal's feathers—bring the exotic creatures to life. After the monkey flings the umbrella into the river and climbs aboard, the jaguar jumps onto it and the other animals think, "Just don't eat us up!" A dramatic aerial view shows the group floating down river; what rocks the boat is a tiny hummingbird, which alights upon the umbrella handle. The creatures reach the riverbank just as the boy abandons his treetop perch, wondering where all the animals are. The author sprinkles this amiable, smoothly recounted tale with Spanish words. Yet more memorable than her narrative are Brett's paintings—an eye-pleasing introduction to exquisite rainforest residents and vegetation. Ages 4-up. (Sept.)