cover image Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down

Wallace Hoskins, the Boy Who Grew Down

DK Publishing, Cynthia Zarin. DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley), $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7894-2523-2

Zarin's (Rose and Sebastian) convoluted tall tale of a small boy benefits from Matje's (A Straw for Two, reviewed below) ominous pen-and-ink illustrations, drawn in a threatening minor key. Eight-year-old Wallace Hoskins hasn't gotten any bigger for several years. The boy's only comfort is his red fireman's helmet, which he never removes from his head. Although his father keeps saying, ""He'll grow out of it""--meaning the physical size and the hat--his mother is less optimistic. One day, there is cause for celebration: Wallace's jeans are too short. Unfortunately, however, ""His legs were getting longer, but the rest of him was staying the same size."" According to his observant older brother, Wallace is ""growing down."" Zarin's descriptions of Wallace successfully highlight his grotesquerie (""He looked like a kite at the end of a string""), but the text occasionally takes on an adult tone (""For Wallace, the next few days were halcyon""). In Matje's evocative pictures, the boy strolls solo on a vast beach, where drab bottle-green waves enhance the gloomy atmosphere, or hunches at the dinner table, his spindly limbs protruding far below his hems. The tale takes an even stranger turn when Wallace's mother performs a magic ritual that involves removing the fire hat while her son sleeps; the boy awakens with proportionate body parts. The narrative implies that one must cast off security blankets in order to mature properly. Whether this warning could entice readers to abandon their ""binkies,"" under peril of freakishness, is open to speculation. The long and the short of it is, readers could be unnerved by Wallace's strange predicament, emphatically rendered by the author and illustrator. Ages 5-8. (Sept.)