directs readers down a hole in the corner
of the room, the story shifts into fantasy—beneath the floorboards, a cricket
paints a majestic picture of a stormy sea,
in which a fisherman (previously seen in
the opening pages) longs to return to the
woman and child in the hillside home. A
lovely, resonant portrait of family life that
hums with quiet magic. Ages 4–10.
Lenny & Lucy
Philip C. Stead, illus. by Erin E. Stead.
Roaring Brook/Porter, $17.99
Peter’s new house is surrounded by dark
woods, and he spends a long night worrying about what’s out there. The next
morning he gets to work, making a guardian out of blankets and cushions. Peter
names his lumpy guardian Lenny and seats
him at the house’s wooden bridge, where
he can keep the woods “on the other side
where they belong.” Concerned that Lenny
might be lonely, he makes him a companion, Lucy. Readers watch as Lenny and Lucy
take on life in Peter’s mind, becoming the
slow-moving, benevolent grandparents
that he needs. (Peter’s father is perfectly
nice, but preoccupied.) When a brown-skinned girl named Millie appears—she
has a plaid skirt, binoculars, and a better
attitude toward the woods—Lenny tips his
hat and Lucy glows; it’s clear that things
are looking up. Erin Stead uses faded grays
for the alien forest and warm, quiet color
for the story’s living souls. What stands out
is the Steads’ (Bear Has a Story to Tell) ability
to evoke the wordless intimacy and companionship that every child needs—and will make
for themselves, if necessary. Ages 3–7.
Leo: A Ghost Story
Mac Barnett, illus. by Christian
Robinson. Chronicle, $16.99
As a ghost, Leo may be invisible and
intangible, but he can still feel bruised.
When a family moves into the empty
home he occupies, they aren’t exactly
pleased to see the floating tray of tea and
toast he has prepared for them. “This
house is haunted!” cries the father as the
family cowers in the bathtub. “I hate tea!”
says his son. “And I hate ghosts!” In one of
several funny-sad moments, Robinson
(Last Stop on Market Street) shows Leo float-
ing above the family, hands clasped to his
mouth in shock at their reaction. Leaving
the house, Leo explores the unfamiliar city
and befriends a girl named Jane, who mis-
takes him for an imaginary friend.
Robinson’s blue-black palette reflects the
Lillian’s Right to Vote:
somewhat somber mood; along with the
somewhat retro look of the art, Leo’s for-
mal attire suggests he’s been a ghost for
some time. Barnett (The Skunk) concludes
on a high note, though, as Leo foils a rob-
bery with help from a classic ghost acces-
sory—the white bed sheet. It’s a warm and
wise story about acceptance trumping dif-
ference—including that between life and
death. Ages 3–5.
A Celebration of the Voting
Rights Act of 1965
Jonah Winter, illus. by Shane W. Evans.
Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99
Winter (How Jelly Roll Morton Invented
Jazz) introduces an elderly African-American woman whose walk up a steep
Philip and Erin Stead
[Editor’s note: the Steads interviewed
each other for our story.]
ES: What was the inspiration for
Lenny & Lucy And do I remember the
origin story for this book differently
than you do?
PS: Yes, it’s very likely that we remember
the origin story a little bit differently. We
often remember things differently—you
remembering them correctly, and me
remembering them in whatever ways feel
nice at the time. My way is less accurate,
but more fun.
Here’s what I remember. The first draft of Lenny & Lucy showed up after
reading an old favorite of mine, Frog Belly Rat Bone by Timothy Basil Ering.
I got the idea of a handmade protector figure into my head. Not an imaginary friend, but something (or someone) that actually exists. Like a golem.
I’ve struggled to explain to people what exactly Lenny and Lucy are. But a
quick Internet search of “golem” has just provided me the perfect, simple
introduction to these characters. From Wikipedia: “A golem is an animated
anthropomorphic being, magically created entirely from inanimate matter.”
In Lenny’s case, inanimate matter=pillows and blankets. In Lucy’s case,
inanimate matter=fallen leaves.
So how do you remember the Lenny origin story?
ES: Most of that is correct. It was the 10th anniversary of Frog Belly Rat
Bone and we were talking about it. But we were both also in a funk those
days, and I remember asking you to write a story about a friend who could
protect you from something that makes you worry. I relate it to when we
leave our dog alone in the house. Our dog is a lot of things, but not always
terribly brave. I always say, “Okay, pup, you’re going to stay here. Be good.
Watch the house.” And she does so, valiantly, even though it’s not quite in
I’ve always seen Lenny and Lucy—the characters, not the title— as an
homage to Hobbes in Calvin and Hobbes, which means, to me, that they
aren’t necessarily imaginary.
; For the complete interview, go to publishersweekly.com/steadqa.