cover image Cloudland


John Burningham. Alfred A. Knopf, $19 (46pp) ISBN 978-0-517-70928-3

It's hardly a new theme: by accident (literally), a child finds himself in a new world-in this case, a land in the clouds, populated by playful cloud children-where each day offers yet another fantastic experience; eventually, however, the child yearns for the familiarity of home and family, and enlists his new friends in helping him return. In the hands of the incomparable Burningham (Hey! Get Off Our Train; Aldo), this familiar story takes on new depth and poignancy while never losing the giddy appeal of adventure. The lean, trenchant text approximates the simple forcefulness of childhood speech. But the book's real power lies in the stop-them-in-their-tracks illustrations. Cut-outs of Burningham's signature line-drawn figures are set against backgrounds that are photographic, painted or a combination of the two; the resulting compositions feel at once both ethereal and cozily handmade. This is a stunning book-whether the reader takes Cloudland at its considerable face value, or is able to ponder its underlying meanings of death, afterlife and rebirth. It promises to resonate with readers of all ages. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)