cover image MUD IS CAKE


Pam Munoz Ryan, , illus. by David McPhail. . Hyperion, $15.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0501-3

In the opening illustration in this winsome tome, a mother reads to her two children as their stuffed animals look on and rain falls outside. Then, as a rainbow fills the sky, the siblings play in a mud puddle while their toy menagerie watches from the front stoop. On subsequent spreads, McPhail (Mole Music) transforms the toys into life-size animals that help the youngsters demonstrate how imagination can turn the ordinary into the fanciful—or the fantastical. As Ryan's (Esperanza Rising) lilting, rhyming narrative chimes in, the artwork creates a subtle subplot: the children serve cake and tea to a bear king and an elephant queen, "Mud is cake/ if you pretend/ and don't really take a bite./ And juice is tea/ with a fairy queen/ if you act it out just right." Flips of the pages reveal the cheerful characters using a porch as a stage, a stick as a magic wand, a cardboard box as a tree house, a bathtub as a boat, etc. The large-scale, softly focused ink-and-watercolor pictures evoke an old-fashioned charm that neatly matches the verse's timeless theme, condensed in the closing words: "You can be most anything/ in dreams, or wide-awake./ If you agree that juice is tea.../ if you believe/ that mud is cake." The book's gentle tone—and dream-inspiring potential—makes it a fine choice for lazy rainy days and bedtime. Ages 2-5. (Apr.)