cover image The Raft

The Raft

Jim LaMarche. HarperCollins, $17.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-688-13977-3

LaMarche (The Rainbabies) filters an evocative tale of a summertime idyll in the Wisconsin woods through a series of exquisitely rendered pastel drawings. Equally adept at portraiture, landscapes and closely observed nature studies, he uses light adroitly; here he bathes his images in the bewitching glow of a riverfront dawn and dusk. Sent to spend the summer with his grandmother, an artist and self-proclaimed ""river rat"" living in a remote cottage, young Nicky believes he's in for a tedious vacation. However, his days quickly fill up with quiet adventures when he discovers a raft covered with drawings of wild animals. His grandmother teaches him how to navigate the river, then sets him free to explore; he soon begins sketching all the animals he sees, from birds and turtles to foxes, raccoons, otters and the like. LaMarche neatly sidesteps sentimentality as he spins his story, subtly and realistically chronicling the growing bond between grandmother and grandson. It's the artwork, however, that is the star of this show. From details such as the graceful curve of a bird's wing or the soft, quick outline of a raccoon's furry coat to mood-setting landscapes of a line of birches just visible through an early-morning mist or the masterful blending of lavenders and grays with a touch of pale peach to evoke the onset of dawn, LaMarche gets it all just right. Ages 6-up. (Apr.)