cover image Uncle Holland

Uncle Holland

JonArno Lawson, illus. by Natalie Nelson. Groundwood (PGW, dist.), $17.95 (32p)

Lawson (Sidewalk Flowers) draws on some checkered family history as he shares the story of his Uncle Holland, who “liked stuff that was pretty, and sometimes he couldn’t help stuffing that pretty stuff into his pockets.” After being caught 37 times by police, Holland was given an ultimatum: go to jail or join the army. Lawson paints the story’s emotions and dilemmas in broad strokes, and Nelson (The King of the Birds) follows suit in collages that combine cartoonish characterizations with photographic clothing elements. Although Holland’s family is bereft about the situation—his brothers sob exaggerated tears, his father “decided to spend the rest of his life watching his fish swim around in his fish tank”—Holland joins the military and takes to creating and selling paintings in the (unnamed) tropical location he is stationed. Lawson addresses tricky topics like criminal activity and parental disappointment with candor and care, keeping readers involved every step of the way. “What would you do if you were Holland?” he asks. On the facing page, Nelson paints a pair of empty boxes awaiting check marks: one for the army, one for jail. Ages 4–7. (Apr.)