This tale of a harsh pet-store owner who turns over a new leaf would be uplifting were it not so frightening.
The exotic animals in surly Mr. Walnut’s emporium get a new lease on life after young Mina sneaks in and releases them one night. Because they take his prized wig with them, he becomes a fearful, lonely shut-in, until he is struck by the notion that he could re-create his animals as plush toys. He stops caring that he’s bald and becomes so jolly that Mina and the animals come back to help. Though supposedly transformed, Mr. Walnut remains a visually scary figure from start to finish in Juan’s richly hued, mildly surrealistic scenes. Not only does he sport huge black eyebrows that look like hairy spiders from the outset, but in a misguided sign of his change, a pair of beady, staring eyes suddenly appear in their midst partway along. Worse yet, in the climactic scene, the smiling animals present him with a Christmas gift that is a near-life-size doll portrait—crudely stitched together and bearing sinister-looking button eyes embedded in thick sprays of black. (In Coraline's world, it would be the Other Mr. Walnut, a truly horrific notion.) It’s enough to give even fairly sturdy readers a sharp case of megrims.
An unsettling outing, with none of the dreamy lyricism that illuminated the artist’s earlier Night Eater (2004). (Picture book. 6-8)