So, I’m taking a Mock Caldecott class through Dominican University with Diane Foote. And I need a place to keep some notes. Lenny & Lucy is a wonderful book that has sparked a great debate with my colleagues at work as to whether we would nominate it for a Caldecott. I think it would be worthy but it is not accessible enough to children. Some of my colleagues agree. Some don’t. I love it! Hopefully they will rebut my argument on here (wink wink guys!).

The verso summary says “A picture book about moving to a new house and making new friends.” The art for this book was made using carbon transfer printing, egg tempera, and charcoal. Lenny & Lucy was written by the team that won the 2011 Caldecott for A Sick Day for Amos McGhee (illustrated by Erin Stead).

dark forest

The dark and impending forest that will now scare kids when they move houses.

Now I get what the book is about, but I’m not sure if a child would get this. Also, kids might develop a phobia of dark impending forests after this.

I love the visuals of the boy being driven down the winding road in between all these trees so tall you can’t see any of the branches, and the highlighting on each page of just a few things in color to draw you to them and link those objects together. I like the use of line to make things look big, scary, and far away and the boy look smaller even while the lines draw your sight to him.

But I think that the text is a little abstract. Kids will be able to identify with moving away being scared and lonely, but the repeating phrase and scene of the boy and dog peeking out the window into the woods and saying “Terrible things hid in the trees” is asking a little bit much of the readers. Should they believe this boy? Will they see his fear as that of change? Will they take it literally? I do think that the illustrations here do do a good job of reflecting the mood and theme of the story.

It is heartwarming how the boy makes a pillow guard man and then a friend for Lenny. But for a dog that never says anything, it’s far-fetched to assume his thoughts and that of these pillow people.

I do like that it shows children’s weird ways of adjusting to change… developing OCD like habits where they have to do something a certain number of times, like jumping in the leaves; making guard people out of pillows of all things (aren’t those soft and friendly and not aggressive enough to guard anything?).

I like that the owl appears throughout most of the spreads as kind of a beacon of hope until the boy is finally shown its presence by his new (real) friend, the girl next door… and that the next door house didn’t appear in this lonely woods until the end of the book.

But I was bothered that the pillow people came to life at the end. I wanted it to be more realistic. And if they’re going to come to life, they should be given dialogue! Maybe I’m just picky. I like how more color was added as the circle of friends widened.

I do like that last full spread where the characters are chasing each other in a line because the formerly scary background falls away to just reveal somewhat colorful characters playing. And the last page is a nice contained circle of the two new friends’ houses with barely a tree in sight and the calming words in circles and clouds of light.

So I think the art is great, but I feel like it is too abstract and not fast-moving enough for children to understand or enjoy. Even Sendak had great momentum in his wild rumpus despite his use of the retro (I guess not in his time) colors and an abstract view of children’s emotions. I feel like the end of this book should read: “and it was still warm.” It’s like they tried to get another Caldecott by rewriting “Where the Wild Things Are” with the feeling of loneliness instead of anger… and failed because it feels uncomfortable and creepy. But the art is great!

I’m sure many people will disagree with me. So please comment! I am up for debate.