Picture Book Reviews: The Barnabus Project & Ray

Courtesy of friends at Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada, I have two wonderful books on the review docket today. I hope you read on for my reviews of The Barnabus Project by The Fan Brothers, as Ray by Marianna Coppo. Happy reading to you all!

You may already by familiar with the author-illustrator work of Toronto-based Terry Fan and Eric Fan for the acclaimed picture books Ocean Meets Sky, The Night Gardener, as well as illustrations for the sublime The Scarecrow, written by Beth Ferry. With The Barnabus Project, Terry Fan and Eric Fan join creative forces with their brother Devin for his picture book debut. In The Barnabus Project, the trio turn their fantastically unique and gorgeous style to a story featuring a half mouse half elephant named Barnabus. There is a store named “Perfect Pets” that exists on a “perfectly ordinary” street; but “hidden beneath”, way, way, underground the city streets, lies a secret lab. This lab is where Barnabus has lived his life as a “Failed Project”- i.e. labelled as imperfect- along with numerous other creatures that “failed” as experiments. In his small and very tidy bell jar home, Barnabus dreams about a “sparkling silver lake, green trees and mountains that [reach] all the way to the sky”. A cockroach named Pip tells Barnabus and the other creatures about the world above, and Barnabus worries at times that his dream of escaping and seeing the stars might truly be…impossible. The “Failed Projects” are sometimes visited by “Green Rubber Suits” who feed them and check in on them, but one day they “put red stamps on all the jars” and leave. Pip lets Barnabus know what this means- what eventually “happens to all Failed Projects”, and at that moment, our brave half mouse half elephant- along with his other friends in the laboratory- makes a colossal, life-altering decision and plan. The recipient of multiple starred and commendatory reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and Quill & Quire (among other publications), The Barnabus Project is already an acclaimed and much-loved picture book, and one that I highly recommend. Always captivating and ultimately- beautifully- hopeful, The Barnabus Project is a deeply thoughtful and gloriously illustrated picture book- one to read, reread, and pore over, again and again.

You may recognize the author-illustrator Marianna Coppo as the creator of the fantastic picture book debut Petra, as well as Such a Good Boy. Coppo’s 2020 release, Ray (translated from Italian by Debbie Bibo), is another charming delight. Ray is a rosy-cheeked smiling light bulb who now resides in the closet of a home. Readers learn that Ray “has seen better days” (in his home’s well-used living room) “and worse ones too” (in the bathroom!). The closet is an okay place to live… but rather boring. Ray can, of course, count the objects around him or watch “Tom the spider”. And things become more lively when a young child sometimes makes their “secret hideout” in the closet. But when darkness hits…”Ray does not like this. Darkness is boring if you don’t know how to fill” that time and Ray usually has “dreamless sleep[s]”. This all changes, however, when Ray is moved from the closet to a lantern when his family goes on a life-changing trip to the outdoors. For Ray, the trip is extraordinary and there are only some things he thinks he recognizes- and “everything is big, super big”! An especially brilliant moment of joy occurs when Ray stays up and sees the smiling face of the “biggest light bulb in the world”. A tender-hearted, softly funny story- with tremendously appealing artwork- that leads to a satisfying ending, Marianna Coppo has another genuine winning tale here with Ray. Readers who love stories starring unexpected, lovable friends such as Spork, Nobody Hugs a Cactus, Spoon, or Coppo’s own Petra, might especially love this shining story. Extras: The removable dust jacket of the hardcover edition of Ray features a glow in the dark Ray (front and back)! It is an adorable and thoughtful touch. My kids were delighted by this and kept turning the lights out in their room and the washroom to see Ray glow!

I received copies of these titles courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own. Titles have been published and are currently available.

Author: michelle@fabbookreviews

Reference & Children's Librarian. Reader. Reviewer.

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