Zola’s Elephant by Randall de Seve, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (9781328886293)
In this exceptional picture book, Zola moves in next door to a little girl. The two mothers have already met and decided the girls should be friends, but the little girl knows that Zola already has a friend. After all, Zola has a box large enough for an elephant and the girl knows that elephants make wonderful friends. As the girl heads different noises, she also thinks about the fun that Zola is having with her elephant. They are taking merry baths together, playing hide-and-seek, and building a lovely clubhouse together. But the truth is shown in the illustrations, explaining the noises that are being heard as much more mundane and downright lonely. Will the little girl have the courage to head over and meet Zola for real?
The text here is rich and evocative. It displays the wealth of imagination that the nameless narrator has as she builds entire worlds of play and merriment from seeing one large box and hearing some noises. It is a book that explores shyness and loneliness and how they live side-by-side and how they can be fixed by one act of bravery. Beautifully, the lonely new neighbor’s pages have no words on them, allowing the image to simply tell the truth.
With illustrations by a two-time Caldecott honoree, the illustrations are detailed, deep and beautiful. Zagarenski manages to create two parallel worlds, one of imagination and brightness and the other stark and blue with isolation. She then captures the moment when those two worlds meet. Done with a circus theme that is embedded in all of the illustrations, she pays homage to the elephant fully even though it doesn’t actually exist.
Beautiful and rich, this picture book is unique and imaginative. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (9780062686206)
Boy has always been bullied and ignored in his village. He is different than the others with his humped back and ability to communicate with animals. When Secondus, a pilgrim searching for relics of Saint Peter, first notices Boy’s climbing ability, he decides to take him along on his journey for a few days. As Boy proves his usefulness and also realizes that he feels accepted for the first time in his life, Boy insists on continuing to help Secondus in his pilgrimage. But they aren’t really rescuing the relics of Saint Peter, they are stealing them in the hopes of getting Secondus into heaven. As their travels continue, they grow more and more perilous. Boy begins to figure out where he came from and realize that though he isn’t a regular boy he may be something all the more special.
I’ve heard so much glowing praise for this book and I thought I had tried to read it earlier in the year, but I got it mixed around with another book. So many books! When I started this, I was immediately swept into the medieval world that Murdock has created. She doesn’t shy away from the filth, the pestilence, and the violence of this world. Yet she also weaves a rich mystical Christianity into the novel that lifts it up out of the reality and into something more.
The two main characters could not be more different from one another, so their unique friendship is all the more rewarding as it emerges. Boy is open and honest to a fault, often failing to understand the nuances of what is happening around him. Secondus is filled with secrets and guilt. Both of their full stories are shared and they serve as two sides of a coin.
A fascinating look at medieval religion, pilgrimage and life, this book is rich and rewarding. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Greenwillow Books.