Adorably fluffy critters, framed by lush green leaves, and William Morris-style flowered endpages are a feast to the eyes before the story even starts. (My first thought when I saw the endpages was "I want that on fabric!" and apparently Bernstein does design textiles, so I will be doing some searching...) A bunny and a wood mouse caper across the white space of the first spread, stopping in surprise when they see... a strange thing on the forest floor, a rag doll, shown on the following page. As more and more creatures encounter the rag doll, each compares it to the things they have experienced through sight, taste, smell, touch, and their own likes and dislikes. An irresistibly fluffy squirrel tries to share a nut, to no avail, but when the beaver shows up, they follow his lead and begin a journey through the woods to see where the doll came from, following the tracks of an unknown creature.
They encounter new and sometimes frightening things on their journey out of the forest, but eventually they come to a house and see a familiar figure on a wooden swing - a little girl who looks just like the doll, with brown skin, curly hair, and soft, comfortable clothes. They leave the doll for her, but return the next evening and peek through the window, seeing the girl curled up on her bed reading a story with her doll. Although they have no experience with the things they have seen, heard, smelled, and felt, they all know love when they see it and return happily to their forest.
Banks experience in writing picture books shows in every lovingly-crafted sentence and although it's a little lengthier than many modern picture books, the gentle refrains of the story and the repetition of key sentences make this a perfect storytime choice even for very young listeners. Bernstein's delicate lines show a variety of misleadingly fluffy critters (I mean, I love the fluffy squirrel, but that does not detract from my endless battle with those fluffy-tailed rats!) and her soft greens, browns, and oranges make for a deeply satisfying visual experience.
Verdict: A classic in the making, this is a lovely storytime and individual reading choice and a recommended purchase.ISBN: 9780358004226; Published February 2022 by Clarion; Purchased for the library; Review copy provided by the publisher
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