Peter and his father are moving to a new house in the woods, along with Harold, who is a good dog. Peter is not happy, and he and Harold stare out the bedroom window at the woods on the other side of the bridge, wondering what is in them—and what might come out of them. In the daytime, Peter and Harold take a big pile of pillows and blankets and fashion a huge watchman, whom they name Lenny, to make sure that nothing comes over the bridge during the night. Since Lenny looks so lonely, the next day Peter creates Lucy to be his friend.
The Steads’ very first collaboration, the poignant A Sick Day for Amos McGee, won the Caldecott Medal, and this third creation also has the hallmarks of excellence. This is not a storytime picture book, but rather a book for little ones to cuddle up in your lap and pore over the detailed drawings that require attention in order to catch the surprises. As an adult, I must admit that I found Lenny and Lucy a little disconcerting, and the first page I turned in which Lenny was actually holding a glass of milk gave me a bit of a jolt. Hopefully, children will see Erin Stead’s characters as funny and friendly, but they are somewhat uncomfortable. My years presenting puppet shows taught me that young children often enjoy that edgy line between reality and illusion. There is a sweet little owl who can be found on many of the pages, and children will have fun searching for him.
Philip Stead’s text is quite understated; each word carries worlds of meaning. He crafts his stories around Peter’s feelings and the plans he makes to deal with them. Peter is unhappy and afraid, but except for his fear of the woods, we don’t know anything about him. Did his parents divorce? Did his mother die? Does his father have a job, and why in the world did he move his child out to the wilderness, anyway? And who is this bold woman bringing him casseroles at night? Oh, wait. That’s an adult reader talking.
The tone of the book is straightforward, but sweet; a bit sorrowful and anxious in the beginning, but growing hopeful by the end. Peter’s determined efforts to confront his fears and solve his own problems can speak to fearful children everywhere. Somehow, this pile of pillows and blankets leads to a cozy group of friends and the belief that these scary woods might just be a good place for a new home, after all.
Vey highly recommended.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.