animals, illustration, mystery, spotlight

Spotlight: Dakota Crumb and the Secret Bookshop/The Mouse Who Carried a House on His Back

Dakota Crumb and the Secret Bookshop: A Tiny Treasure Hunt (Candlewick)
Written by Jamie Michalak
Illustrated by Kelly Murphy

For ages: 3-7
Dakota Crumb is a treasure-hunting mouse who gets a request from her cousin to come to Paris and help find a priceless book. Dakota arrives and finds the store, bearing a magnifying glass icon on its door, and proceeds to follow a series of clues. This scavenger hunt leads her through detailed illustrations of the bookstore and eventually into danger when the store has a watchdog. However, this mystery is not what Dakota thought; her discovery at the end signals a celebration of friends and reading.

This book exists between traditional picture book narratives and the I Spy/Where’s Waldo-style search & find genre. The book’s end notes include a picture list of objects to go back and find. That said, Dakota is a character that lacks characterization. Most of the book is simple exposition, and we don’t get a sense of personality through the text. Dakota is ultimately a plot delivery device. This is the second book in the series, which has me wondering if the first one did a better job setting up who she is and how she sees the world. Even so, that should have carried over into this second text. A good read, but definitely lacking in that regard.

This review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Mouse Who Carried a House on His Back (Candlewick)
Written by Jonathan Stutzman
Illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault

For ages: 4-8
In yet another mouse-centered tale, we have Vincent, who carries an invisible house on his back that can hold more than you might imagine. He travels through the forest, stopping where people need him, and shows inclusivity towards all creatures. First, it is a bullfrog who doesn’t think the house can hold him, but it grows to fit him. From there is a cascade of house cats, hedgehogs, and more. When a bear shows up, the critters fear he will come inside and eat them. Vincent keeps an open mind and discovers the bear just wants to get out of the rain, and the house expands to fit him in too.

The illustrations here feel straight out of Ezra Jack Keats or Eric Carle, cut paper layered with paint to create a textured look to every page. A house-shaped hole on every other page represents the invisible house, providing a neat special effect when you turn the page and go inside. The book is about inclusivity and is relatively heavy-handed in getting that point across. I prefer more subtle themes, even in children’s books, because discovering those lessons rather than having them spelled out for you is a more rewarding process. The book has a gentle softness, which will make it feel comforting and cozy, drawing readers into this house for everyone.

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