cover image Weslandia


Paul Fleischman. Candlewick Press (MA), $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-0006-8

This fantastical picture book, like its hero, is bursting at the seams with creativity. Wesley's imagination sets him apart; not only does he sport purple sneakers and glasses, he thinks football is stupid and refuses to shave half his head like all the other boys. ""He sticks out,"" says his mother. ""Like a nose,"" bemoans his father. Ironically, a banal aside from his father gives Wesley an idea for a summer project: he establishes a new civilization in his own backyard, eventually attracting his former tormentors and befriending them. Fleischman (Joyful Noise) and Hawkes (My Little Sister Ate One Hare) offer a vigorous shot in the arm to nonconformists everywhere. A droll, deadpan text describes how Wesley prepares the soil for a seemingly magical influx of seedlings. Unable to identify the new staple crop, Wesley names it ""swist,"" gathers food from its fruit and tubers, weaves clothing from its fibers and fashions suntan lotion and mosquito repellent from the oil of its seeds (which, in a Tom Sawyeresque business maneuver, he allows his now-curious foes to grind--and then he sells the product to them). In vibrant, puckish acrylic paintings, Hawkes captures the entrepreneurial essence of Wesley. From the makeshift shield that protects him from garbage-throwing classmates to his cluttered bedroom overflowing with inventions and science projects to the giant red-flowering jungle he cultivates, Wesley's universe clearly exists on a slightly parallel plane. Yet Hawkes introduces the outlandish elements so naturally that they seem organic. For instance, an ingenious conception of Wesley's alternative to ""traditional sports"" shows a lacrosse-like game with a unique scoring feature. And a subtle visual metaphor takes shape in an aerial shot of a cookie-cutter neighborhood in which Wesley's wildly fertile backyard sticks out ""like a nose."" It's difficult to imagine a better pairing than Fleischman and Hawkes to bring this one-of-a-kind kid--and his universe--so vividly to life. And readers will relish the tongue-in-cheek ending in which Wesley's ex-rivals conform to the nonconformist. Ages 4-9. (June)