I love the cover of Barbara Lehman's upcoming picture book, Rainstorm. I requested a review copy from Houghton Mifflin, without more than a vague familiarity with the author, mainly because the cover was so appealing. Slanting, elongated raindrops that you can only see when you hold the book at a certain angle to the light. A moody purple sky. A boy, wearing a tie, looking out of the window of an old-fashioned mansion. Blue sky and clouds visible in the background of the child's window (inside the house). Compelling. Mysterious. I had to have it. And it lived up to my expectations.
Rainstorm is a wordless picture book aimed at four to eight year olds. It tells the story of a boy who lives in a fine mansion, but has no one to play with. The boy's clothing (short pants and a tie) and toys suggest that the story is set sometime in the past, perhaps 100 years ago. One rainy day, as the boy is wandering, bored and aimless, around his house, he finds a mysterious key. After trying the key in various locks, he has success with an old steamer trunk. He finds a gateway to an unexpected adventure, and makes several new friends. This story isn't fantasy. His adventure is possible, albeit improbable, reminding me of an Enid Blyton or Frances Hodgson Burnett story (though with the modern multi-cultural aspect that his friends aren't all white).
The illustrations in Rainstorm, while not overly detailed, convey everything that we need to know. Some of the pictures are full-page, while others are smaller insets, indicating more rapid action sequences. The children's faces are simple, almost smiley-face like, with dots for eyes. All the hints that we have about what the kids are thinking come from their mouths (smiling or not), and from their posture and gestures. The wealthy boy slumps forward with boredom early in the book, puts a hand in front of his mouth when he accidentally kicks a ball down the stairs, and squares his shoulders when summoning bravery. It's the ultimate application of "show, don't tell".
The other thing that is shown, without being told in words, is the children's indifference to the class and race differences between them. We can see, when the protagonist visits his new friends, that they have scarcely any toys, and run around barefoot. The other boy has shelves full of toys, and is waited on by servants. The friends eat bread and jam, with the knife stuck in the jam jar on the table, while the boy eats at a table littered with silver. And none of it matters - they're happy to play together.
This is one of those books that makes the reader, a child of any age, want to step inside the book, and take part in the adventure. I laughed with surprise when the boy found out where the key led, and I'm certain that kids will love it. Rainstorm will make an excellent early step along a journey that can continue through the works of Edward Bellairs, Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene, and on up to Philip Pullman and Rick Riordan. Highly recommended for four to eight year olds and their suspense-loving older friends.
Author: Barbara Lehman
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Original Publication Date: April 2007
Age Range: 4-8
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
Other Blog Reviews: Pixie Stix Kids Pix. LibrariAnne is also anxious to read this one, but hasn't reviewed it yet.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.