cover image Lost for Words

Lost for Words

Natalie Russell. Peachtree, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-56145-739-7

Russell’s (Brown Rabbit in the City) story stars a tapir whose tubby form, demure snout, and pinprick eyes offer a winsome addition to the traditional picture book menagerie. The artist uses the matte, screen print images of her previous books to depict a verdant landscape scattered with domed white buildings and herds of animals on the horizon. Tapir’s friends Giraffe, Hippo, and Flamingo can all write poems and songs, but Tapir has writer’s block and can’t think of anything to say. He hums with closed eyes like Flamingo, wallows in the mud like Hippo, and climbs a tall ladder to munch leaves, hoping his friends’ gifts will ooze into him. It turns out (predictably, it must be said) that although Tapir struggles to write, he can draw handsome portraits of his friends, with loyal thoughts of what will please them: “He added plenty of mud to keep Hippo happy.” While most of the writing is in sweet earnest, the moments in which Russell allows herself gentle hints of irony—“ ‘It’s beautiful,’ whispered Flamingo, wiping a tear from her eye”—are the story’s best. Ages 4–8. (Mar.)