A repeated spell-check fail and, more seriously, a discomfiting color choice make this visionary lyric a washout.
Bearing in two interior illustrations and on the rear cover a newspaper with the malaprop headline “Downpour leeches [sic] red,” a hedgehog splashes its way through a rain shower. He drops a sweet love note into the mailbox and then returns home for a cozy nap. Meanwhile, the rain has washed the color out of all the poppies, staining everything red, from a frog to the mailbox, the hedgehog and even the hair of a girl’s head and an old man’s beard. Martin’s incantatory free-verse text will raise disturbing associations even in readers who aren’t familiar with Peter Gabriel’s song “Red Rain,” the war poem “In Flanders Fields,” or mentions of rains and rivers of blood in Homer, the Book of Exodus and throughout literature. “Then, red, the roots, / Red, the ground, / Red, the stones sitting around. / Red, the grass underfoot. // Red, the beaks of curious birds. / Red, the field where sit the poppies.” Moreover, to sparely drawn illustrations done in thin gray wash and fine ink lines, Shaughnessy adds brushed swabs of a single shade of bright, fire engine red that looks artificial on her human figures and turns the feet, beaks and bodies of animals into bloody highlights. The hedgehog is last seen repainting the poppies, but that’s too little, too late.
A pale, poorly conceived rumination on color; choose instead Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Green (2012) or Joyce Sidman’s Red Sings from Treetops (2009), illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. (Picture book. 6-8)