Months ago, I received an early copy of Amy Hest’s latest picture book, The Reader, illustrated by Lauren Castillo, and immediately fell for it. I think I even read this snowy adventure tale when summer was giving its final gasp, and I was eager for winter to arrive so that I’d see more people sharing it with children.
It’s not quite winter yet, but we’re almost there. Either way—and no matter where you live, snowy or otherwise—I highly recommend this magical book, just released in October. I know that “magical” gets used and abused when people write about picture books, but this one really is.
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What we have here yet again (I wrote about this last week) is another superb author-illustrator pairing. It’s a well-crafted story with an illustrator taking it up a notch with artwork that extends the story—and, in this case, with a gentle beauty.
Hest’s words tell us only that our protagonist is a “reader” with a “small brown dog.” Castillo renders him a young boy, wrapped in many layers, heading out with his “sturdy suitcase” on a winter’s day. I love the details Hest provides, which young children will eat up. It’s not just a sturdy suitcase; it’s a “sturdy suitcase that is brown,” and he has a long red sled “with a long, loopy rope for pulling through deep snow.”
Hest not only notes the tiny details of a world that children take in, but she provides commentary on it. In my favorite part, she writes: “His boots are high and very heavy, but he is strong, and his train tracks are impeccably straight. They are beautiful.” His “train tracks” are what the sled runners leave in the snow, and Castillo devotes an entire spread to these tracks, as well as the dog’s circles of paw prints in the snow, as the boy pulls the sled behind him.
The boy and his dog have a clear destination in mind, though it’s not revealed to the child reader until several spreads into the book. The reader is “good at working hard,” as he trudges through the snow, and the dog is “good at waiting,” always running ahead of the boy.
When they make it to the summit of a hill, “the top of the world,” they rejoice—with snowballs, snow angels, and “a snow dog for the dog.” They have warm drinks, crunchy toast, “and the only sound in the world is sssip-crunch-crunch . . . sssip-crunch-crunch.”
If that right there doesn’t give you goosebumps, it gets better. The boy announces ceremoniously to the dog that “it’s time.” Both author and illustrator give plenty of room for the Big Moment, as the boy slowly opens the suitcase. What’s inside? “A book. The very best book.” It’s called Two Good Friends.
Cue the aforementioned magic: “And the only sound in the world is the sound of the reader reading to the very last page...the very last word.”
Castillo’s soft ink and watercolor illustrations are cozy and inviting, breathing out to the very edges of the paper (with the exception of the cleverly book-ended opening and closing illustrations, the boy and his dog warmly encircled each time).
I won’t tell you what they do afterwards in the exuberant final spread, just in case you find a copy of this book to read to yourself and/or your own favorite child.
You won’t want to miss the magic.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.