When a green baby creature appears on their remote Australian farm, the Barleycorns take it in, nurture it, and become part of its natural world—at least for a season.
The intricate paintings in this haunting fantasy have an ominous edge right from the sepia-toned title page that shows a small wooden farmhouse snug against a railroad trestle in an otherwise vast and empty landscape. In the story, after the husband takes the baby in, he, his wary wife, and even commuters stranded at their farm by the sudden rampant expansion of all growing things, enjoy the fruits of a lush summer. But the Greenling is a creature of summer, and when fall comes, he, like the growing plants, disappears, leaving who knows what to come. A final double-page spread shows wind vanes instead of power lines, green grass and small flowers growing, but no visible humans. The rhyme and insistent rhythmic pulse of the text add a sense of inevitability. This ecological fable, a British import, has the folkloric atmosphere of Pinfold’s Kate Greenaway Medal–winning Black Dog (2012). It will have sinister overtones for those who know that according to folklore, John Barleycorn’s life ends with folks drinking his blood, but most readers will simply enjoy the artist’s surreal vision and detailed imagery, which includes surprising Australian fauna.
Chilling and thought-provoking, this picture book for older readers invites discussion. (Picture book. 9 & up)