cover image The Surprise

The Surprise

Zadie Smith and Nick Laird, illus. by Magenta Fox. Viking, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-0-59-352597-5

A pet seeks belonging in this familiar-feeling narrative, a picture book debut from married collaborators Smith and Laird as well as illustrator Fox. On Kit’s birthday, “her present was a soft, small, sleepy surprise”—a guinea pig dressed in a judo outfit (“I’m quite into judo,” she explains). But when Kit, portrayed with brown skin, heads out for a bit, the other pets express skepticism about the Surprise. “Oh, she’s definitely an oddball,” declares Dora the cat; “If you’re not a cat or a dog or a bird, you’re an oddball.” When the Surprise tries to impress by tying balloons to her waist and flying, she floats right out of the window—and, fortuitously, onto the balcony of an Auntie Mame–esque neighbor, red-haired Emily Brookstein, who states, “Life’s too short not to be an oddball.” After a splendid afternoon of eating macaroons, playing cards, and feeling seen, the Surprise is returned to her owner, who at last gives her a name: Maud. Finally feeling secure about herself and Kit’s love, Maud makes a place for herself among the other pets (they even apologize and ask for judo lessons). It’s a tonally freewheeling picture book whose chatty narration and dialogue are anchored by precise, fine-lined art and vivid characterizations. Ages 3–7. (June)