Books

Short stack

Unsuspected characters come to life

‘Leo: A Ghost Story’

By Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Christian Robinson, Chronicle, $16.99, ages 3-5


By anyone’s standards — living or dead — Leo, the boy ghost, has good manners. When a new family moves into the house where he has been living alone he graciously offers them mint tea and honey toast. The family, though, can’t see sweet Leo and his snazzy Victorian garb. All they see is a floating tray of treats. Spooked, the family, including their cat and dog hides in the bathtub and then call in the experts — “a scientist, a clergyman, and a psychic” to rid the house of Leo.

Leo understands he is not welcome so, with a spirit of adventure, he sets out to explore the city. Being invisible is a lonely business, though. When Leo meets Jane, who mistakes him for an imaginary friend, his heartache — and readers’ — eases. Their adventures and Leo’s turn as a thief-nabber give the story emotional resonance and unexpected dramatic tension.

Barnett and Robinson are a picture-book dream team. As always Robinson shows that he is a genius of mood — shades of blue and heavy black lines cast a melancholy glow — and posture. As much as I study Robinson’s images I’ll never understand how he wrings so much expressiveness out of the seemingly simple curves of smiles and sharp angles of elbows. Despite Leo’s ghost status there is nothing spooky about this moving story of friendship, acceptance, and belonging.

‘Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds’

By Marianne Dubuc, Kids Can Press, $17.95, ages 3-7

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If you have exhausted every Richard Scarry volume at the library, “Mr. Postmouse’s Rounds” will provide a suitably absorbing substitute to the busy animals of Scarry’s world. Each page is filled with the singular joys of anthropomorphization: a bear dining with Goldilocks in his cozy house complete with a pipe-rigged hive, which drips honey directly into a quaint jar; the crowded warren of the Rabbit family that includes two stacks of bunks; and the dramatic snake’s burrow that stretches across three spreads and includes heaters that drop from the ceiling.

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Readers get a peek inside these animal homes because the book follows Mr. Postmouse as he delivers packages with bravery (up into bird’s tree houses), dread (the snake’s home), and joy (lunch with a dragon). The last package of Mr. Postmouse’s route delivers a sweet payoff to end this delightful book filled with enough details to reward re-readings.