Daddy and little Lula rake autumn leaves alongside Akaraka, the girl’s imaginary friend.
Akaraka takes shape in the clouds, wind, leaves, and breeze—an evanescent silhouette that Daddy can’t see, though he playfully calls to her. Lula watches Akaraka out of the corner of her eye while giggling and teasing, “Daddy, you silly….” Readers will feel exhilarated, enclosed in Lula’s private secret. They too make out her form in the autumnal natural world and later as a diaphanous shadow on bedroom wallpaper. Lithe, light-handed pen-and-ink–and-watercolor artwork appears both delicate and assured, making landscapes, expressions, and postures (even the folds of a sweatshirt) appear at once exact and exquisite. While interior domestic scenes seem cozily, concretely familiar with helpings of chocolate pudding (an extra for Akaraka), the world outdoors feels wildly atmospheric, with soaring skies and spinning leaves. Spacious double-page spreads evoke the luxuriant pull of the imagination, where the charm of an imaginary friend can sweep you away, across borders. Lula and her parents have pale skin and straight, black hair; Jackson’s back-flap biography explains that the word Akaraka comes from the Igbo-speaking people of southwestern Nigeria and was adopted by his then-3-year-old granddaughter, who loved the sound.
Questions about what we see and what we don’t see, what we know and what we don’t know ripple through this beguiling book like a playful October wind. (Picture book. 4-8)