By Thereza Rowe
Toon Books, $12.95
Level One (kindergarten through first grade)
The title of this book is Hearts, although the word appears quite a bit smaller than the three big, red, valentine-perfect hearts on the cover, and not not at all on the spine, where only the trio of heart images appear between the names of the author and the publisher.
Similarly, the story artist Thereza Rowe, here making her debut as an author, tells is done more through bright, colorful, precise imagery than through words, although, this being a comic, there are some words as well.
On the title page we meet a pair of canines, a little red fox and a larger gray animal the back cover tells us is Penelope the fox. They’re holding hands, and the red fox tells Penelope she’s its best friend. Then we see them happily eating ice cream together on the next title page.
Finally, on the first page of the story, the little red fox is shown flying away in a rocket ship, while a heart appears over Penelope’s head, a big, lightning bolt-shaped crack appearing in it.
Penelope sits crying on a cliff, holding her now-broken heart, when suddenly it slips from her fingers and falls into the sea. She dives in after it, beginning a dramatic adventure in which a shark, dolphins, sea gulls, a paper airplane, the high walls and armed guards of castle, and other obstacles keep her from recovering it.
Despite the help of a friendly (and non-anthropomorphic) horse, she eventually loses it…until a weird singing, dancing rooster leads her to the garden of lost things, where an even greater obstacle lurks.
There’s no sense spoiling the ending of a book that will only take a few moments to read, but suffice it to say that Penelope learns there’s more than one way to recover one’s lost “heart,” broken or un-broken.
Rowe’s figures are simple, flat and suggestive, having an aura of ancient artwork about them, and they “move” a bit like stickers or decals being re-positioned on the flat, abstracted, wrapping paper-pretty backgrounds. The colors are are gorgeous and eye-popping; while I’ve yet to read a dull or poorly-made Toon Books book, I’m having trouble thinking of one that shines and twinkles like Hearts does.
The degree of unique style involved in Rowe’s art makes me wonder how appealing it will be to how many children, as aspects of it would have seemed wrong to kindergarten-aged Caleb who didn’t know better yet—foxes are red, not gray!—but it’s certainly a beautiful object, full of beautiful art, and a beautiful story that most adults would appreciate. And since they’re the ones who buy the books and read them to and with their kids, then I guess that’s good enough.