A painting comes alive in this read-aloud picture book for children.
The book starts with a large, white canvas; soon, an artist picks up oil sticks and begins to draw a mountain, a forest, a sea and a small school of fish. The artist, who has so far been in total control of his work—a benevolent creator bringing life to a new little world—eventually notices that the fish are acting strangely. All but one are swimming furiously away from something, and it soon becomes clear that an orange finger of lava threatens not only them, but a cozy town nestled on the mountainside—and the artist fears that the entire painting may be at risk. The tone of Mackavey’s (Shared Purpose, 1997) gentle, lyrical prose effectively complements the pastels that illustrate each stage of the painting’s creation. The transition from the expected to the unexpected is smooth and intriguing; she makes every color and element of the painting its own character and elicits just enough reader concern for the fates of the fish and the houses without being too frightening. She also avoids being too literal when depicting the lava beast, showing just the head of the lava flow in swirls of brownish red oil pastels. In the text, the beast becomes sympathetic—lonely, scared and unsure of himself. He longs for the houses’ cozy, well-lit interiors and eventually comes to rest, cooling finally into rock against the edge of the village. This would have been a fine place to end this sweet story, but it continues instead with the lava beast’s dream—a confusing, abstract depiction of a volcanic eruption, which segues into the artist’s waking up from his own dream, a device that unfortunately doesn’t serve the first half of the story well. Overall, this book falls between genres, as it may be too long to read to most toddlers but too slow and simple to grab older children’s interest.
An often engaging children’s story that starts well but might have been stronger if it were shorter.