Braids flying, bespectacled Martha heads home from school, vividly imagining what’s behind the windows lining an urban street.
While Martha, looking up, traverses each otherwise blank, white verso page by degrees, each recto’s deceptively staid, delicately rendered window “opens” along a centered gatefold, revealing multifarious black-and-white scenes with decidedly surreal touches. Behind a ledge with drooping potted plants, a veritable torrid zone thrives as a gardener tends its elaborate flora and fauna. A shuttered window hides vampires playing badminton among a colony of bats. A dainty fringed shade obscures a woman straight from Grimm, reading 101 Ways To Cook a Child as her cauldron bubbles. (Her intended victim, ostensibly having consumed the conspicuously included How To Escape, bolts right out of the picture.) French Canadian author/illustrator Arbona’s wordless tableaux include magical mushrooms, bioluminescent sea creatures, a sleeping giant, and a cozy library full of reading animals. Kids will appreciate the use of “almost 20” felt pens for these pictures, whose fine lines, crosshatching, and infinitesimal dots evoke Edward Gorey. The visual mayhem, meanwhile, channels Jon Agee, Fernando Krahn, and even Mad magazine. The 13th gatefold lands Martha at home in a cozy bedroom surrounded by objects that were transmogrified in earlier illustrations and where, flopped on the floor, the child draws. Most humans are as white as the page; people of color are tinted gray.
Arbona’s teeming scenes should inspire both close observation and new compositions by young readers/artists. (Picture book. 4-8)