A school-age kid is new to an apartment building in an unnamed city.
Unseen parents urge the kid to “Give the city a chance. / At second glance, you’ll find that the heat / and the beat of the streets / Will have you up on your feet. / Wait and see.” But in the building’s lobby there are “Angry faces filling the space, / Shoving, rushing, crushing, where to? Who knew.” Outside, the narrator sits down on a bench opposite the building, looks into the windows: and catalogs: “A writer, a cook, five kids / And—look! Three cats, a nest / A sparkling chest, a girl who sews, / A garden that grows, a bat and two crows.” While the text is pedestrian, deeply colored illustrations are quirky and cartoony, offering plenty to look at. Readers can spin their own stories about the characters as they hunt for objects and people, named in the verses. The story brings the many characters together to share a dinner party, with a message of friendship between diverse people, but it’s the artist’s weirdly funny sensibility that shines out of every page. The protagonist is pink-skinned, but other characters range from paper-white to brown, and one character is comfortably gender-nonconforming.
Offer this to kids who will enjoy its offbeat illustrations and hope that Venema’s next outing will be enhanced by a more original text. (Picture book. 6-9)