If Wendell Had a Walrus

illus. by Matt Phelan. 32p. Holt. Apr. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781627796026.
Wendell, with his swoop of orange hair and peaches-and-cream complexion, gets to thinking about what he'd do if he had a walrus after "seeing" one in the clouds. "If Wendell had a walrus, he'd name him Roger. They'd tell tons of jokes. Walruses love a good joke." Wendell feeds Roger the lines: "What did the walrus do when he read a sad story?" and Roger responds: "He blubbered." Mortensen's pitch-perfect child humor combined with Phelan's knack for body language and facial expressions brings the pair's joy clearly to the pages. The problem is that their activities-riding a bike, drawing, building a fort-remain imaginary since Wendell doesn't have a walrus. Observant children will notice a second boy, this one with brown skin and a halo of curly hair, following a similar path, and Wendell spots him after he throws a note in a bottle out to sea. The boy, Morrell, has a bottle too-his addressed to a whale-and as they wait on the rocks, they start telling each other jokes, and become nonimaginary friends. Phelan's pencil and watercolor illustrations use blues and oranges and gentle lines to make viewers yearn to be part of the landscape and the story, and he makes all the characters' emotional connections (humans and animals) remarkably real. A surprise twist at the end leaves room for kids to imagine what happens next. susan dove lempke

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