Picture Book Reviews: In a Jar & The Boy and the Gorilla

Two fantastic picture books on review today! Courtesy of friends at Penguin Random House Canada (and imprints G.P. Putnam‘s Sons and Candlewick Press), I have the pleasure of talking about In a Jar by Deborah Marcero, and The Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie Azúa Kramer and Cindy Derby. Happy reading, all!

In a Jar, written and illustrated by Deborah Marcero (My Heart is a Compass) is a gorgeous and thoughtful picture book that tells a story centred around friendship and memories. When readers meet a little rabbit named Llewellyn taking a walk through golden foliage, we learn that he is a collector who collects “things in jars”. For Llewellyn, holding a jar and taking a look at the treasures held inside helps him “[remember] all of the wonderful things he has seen and done”. From “buttercups” to “heart-shaped stones”, Llewellyn grows his fantastical collection of jars day by day. Then one day, while trying to capture a “sky the color of tart cherry syrup”, Llewellyn meets “a little girl named Evelyn” and decides to share a jar of memory magic with her. From then on, Evelyn and Llewellyn are inseparable, happily collecting tangible and seemingly intangible things and moments in time. Alas, their happy friendship and collecting meets sudden sadness when Evelyn announces that she and her family have to move. With his heart now “[feeling] like an empty jar”, Llewellyn thinks of his friend- now far away- wondering if Evelyn might be seeing the same sky as he is. In an absolutely lovely climb to the story’s end, Llewellyn and Evelyn find a way to keep their bond and connection truly alive, while also paving the way for new friendship. In a Jar excels not only in Marcero’s luminous, hopeful storytelling but also in the creator’s unbelievably appealing, serene yet vibrant mixed- media illustrations. The fine lines, colours and details of all of Llewellyn and Evelyn’s jars- their collections- is tremendous and worthy of note, and begs for multiple looks and studies. A picture book about friendship that excels in novel storytelling and presentation, Deborah Marcero’s In a Jar is a special, mesmerizing reading experience.

Written by Jackie Azúa Kramer (author of The Green Umbrella) and illustrated by Cindy Derby (How to Walk an Ant), The Boy and the Gorilla is an exceptional picture book that shares a sensitive, poignant and ultimately hopeful tale about death, loss, and grief. Opening on wordless pages of somber neutrals and a softly rendered gorilla, readers soon discover that a young boy is grieving. At what appears to be a funeral reception at his home, the young boy ventures away to a garden. The gorilla, who has been keeping quiet watch, follows and notes to the boy that his “mother’s garden is beautiful”. Sitting with the gorilla and tending to the garden‘s offerings- bright with the only bursts of colour and vibrancy- the boy says that his mother has died. While colouring at the kitchen table as his father cooks, while flying a kite, while at a playground, the boy and the gorilla are together- with the gorilla answering the young boy’s questions about death and his comments about emotions in calm, matter-of-fact yet exceedingly profound ways. Throughout the story, the young boy’s father exists on the periphery of the story (and in the artwork)…and as the questions and conversations between the boy and the gorilla grow, the more the story gently builds to the boy approaching and talking to his dad about their tremendous shared loss. The Boy and the Gorilla is one of the finest picture books dealing directly with parental loss that I have ever read. To be able to delve into such complex subject matter in a book, to bring readers of any age a story that not only offers answers but also sincere hope in tragedy? So rare, and The Boy and the Gorilla delivers on all of these fronts with Jackie Azúa Kramer’s storytelling. Also worthy of note is the illustrative work of Cindy Derby whose always-unexpected, chameleon-like yet recognizable style- here in watercolour, gouache and mixed-media- is a balm to the eye and heart. Any readers searching for a picture book speaking to the loss of a parent (or loved one) and related subject matter in an incredibly empathetic, humane manner, The Boy and the Gorilla is a highly recommended pick.

I received a copy of In a Jar (imprint G. P. Putnam‘s Sons) and a copy of The Boy and the Gorilla (imprint Candlewick Press) courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for honest reviews. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Reference & Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

One thought

  1. My goodness these are adorable. Even better, my grandmother’s name is Llewellen, making ‘In a Jar’ even more loveable to me. Thank you for the wonderful reviews!

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