Peter, his dad, and his dog, Harold, move to a narrow house just on the other side of “dark unfriendly woods,” across a rickety bridge.
Smudgy grays describe this new, murky place, communicating all of Peter’s uneasiness and uncertainty. Details as sharp as his edgy fears (“Terrible things hid in the trees”) ripple through riveting illustrations, in overwhelming floral wallpapers and spiky tree trunks, all bathed in graphite. Colors (yellows, blues, greens, and purples) appear only in spots, buoys in rough waters. Gripping narration unspools the story with the measured, easy command of a Grimm—or a Neil Gaiman. Children might wiggle a bit as they absorb, with grave recognition, the streaming undercurrents of discomfort and loneliness. To combat both these feelings and the things in the woods, Peter builds a pillow man he calls Lenny, Guardian of the Bridge, and, soon after, a friend for him named Lucy. These pillow people, somehow human in both their form (button eyes convey remarkable feeling) and puffy vulnerability, seem swollen with acute worries. They are the Guardians, after all. Subtly, quietly, Lenny and Lucy eventually move a bit, lifting their hats to a neighbor girl named Millie, who comes to Peter bringing binoculars, marshmallows, and the unspoken promise of friendship.
Hypnotic artwork and storytelling invite children to linger in the wild woods of worry and emerge intact, enriched, and utterly invigorated by this complex, contemporary fairy tale. (Picture book. 4-8)