cover image Book


Peter Catalanotto, George Ella Lyon. DK Publishing (Dorling Kindersley), $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7894-2560-7

This ambitious but insular picture book attempts to answer the question that appears as if written in chalk just before the title page: ""Dear Friend,/ Dear Reader,/ Look at the book/ you have just opened./ What is it/ you hold in your hand?"" A series of extended metaphors compares a book to a house in which ""light falls/ through the windows of words,"" to a ""CHEST/ that keeps the heart's treasure,"" and so on. Each of Catalanotto's intricately designed watercolors focuses on a girl who appears literally inside the books she is reading, and each splendid painting is filled with light and energy. When she enters her first book, the girl is surrounded by words and images as diverse as a kokopelli, a cross-sectioned apple and a blue roadster. On other pages, she chases a dappled gray horse that metamorphoses into a bird, or words surround her in varied guises, some like mirror images, some repeating phrases from Lyon's poem. Both text and art are impressive on their own, but they combine less successfully than in previous collaborations between Lyon and Catalanotto (Who Came Down That Road?). The artistic urgency of the illustrations seems at odds with the quiet, invitational tone of the poem; in some moments, too, the art appears to offer an independent narrative, one that competes with rather than enhances the text. The arbitrary elements of some paintings and the occasionally abstruse language (""Reader, you are [the book's] weather:/ your tears, your eyes shining"") are likelier to distance children than to enthuse them about reading. It's ironic that this book about the joys of books should feel more like homework than pleasure. Ages 4-7. (Mar.)