ZAGARENSKI, Pamela. Henry & Leo. illus. by Pamela Zagarenski. 40p. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544648111.
PreS-Gr 1 –In this spare picture book, Zagarenski explores the familiar theme of a stuffed animal becoming real. Leo, a stuffed toy lion, is Henry’s favorite. Henry has other toys, for sure, such as a bear, bunny, and fox. But Leo is special, with his glass button eyes and jointed and movable parts, and he and Henry are inseparable. One day the family decides to go for a walk in the woods, and Henry excitedly declares, “Leo loves the woods!” Henry’s disbelieving sister scolds him, though, saying, “Leo is a stuffed toy, and toys aren’t real!” Henry knows better as they enjoy a stroll through the Nearby Woods. Unfortunately, after a long, tiring walk, Leo is accidentally left behind. Heading out again into the night, the family searches, but the little friend is nowhere to be found. Henry is inconsolable as he lies in bed, but magic is happening in the Nearby Woods. Henry’s stuffed toys transform into real animals, and the bear, the rabbit, and the fox guide Leo safely home. The next morning, the family finds him in the garden, looking every bit like a stuffed animal again. However, Leo quietly whispers a real “I love you” into Henry’s ear. The full-bleed illustrations are done in mixed media and have a soft, dreamy quality to them. As the people and toys drift between the real world and the magical one, ghostly crowns appear over their heads. The nighttime scenes in the forest contain fantasylike elements, contrasting with the more realistic ones in the real world. VERDICT The stunning, sumptuous artwork and familiar themes make this a serene and satisfying bedtime story for young children, with just the right amount of dramatic tension.
This review was published in the School Library Journal October 2016 issue.