Staid pictures make a poor match for a child’s free-flying introduction to an imaginary friend.
In contrast to the art, which displays the drab palette and static compositions common to earnestly therapeutic titles, young Henry’s imaginative portrait of his friend “Vladimir” abounds in colorful details. Vladimir lives in Iceland—or sometimes next door—celebrates his birthday every day, likes the same foods as Henry, and owns an airplane and a forklift. He also has various pets including a dog named Hoss, who is big enough to scare wolves and “stays with me at night when it is very dark....” In her photo-collaged, mixed-media illustrations, Inglese gives Henry and his watching mother faint but realistic features, whereas Vladimir is drawn as a cartoon figure, changeable of size and apparent age. In the final scene, he snuggles down next to Henry, along with Hoss (a live dog, it turns out) and the other pets, who are plush. Though Inglese admirably acknowledges the real importance of toys and imaginary friends in children’s lives, Vladimir is an anemic alternative to, say, wild things, Calvin’s tiger, Hobbes, or even the likes of Kevin Henkes’ Jessica (1989).
Aims high but misses. (Picture book. 5-7)