June 29, 2011
When a new children's book reminds me of one of the major classics of children's lit--Barrie, Hodgson Burnett, Sendak--well, that's high praise in my book, and it doesn't happen often. Maria van Lieshout's Hopper and Wilson is reminiscent, in the best possible ways, of Winnie-the-Pooh, both thematically, in its simple tale of two stuffed-animal friends, and visually, with its sweet illustrations of the friends' voyage to the end of the world (right down to the visible stitches on both Hopper, a stuffed elephant, and Wilson, his dear stuffed-mouse companion).
None of this is to say the book doesn't stand perfectly well on its own two feet, though; van Lieshout (like Milne, and Saint-Exupery, and Arnold Lobel) is one of those writers who find profundity in simplicity. Her story of the terrified bravery of both friends, as they encounter and overcome terrible dangers on their travels, is by no means complex, but children and adults alike will find it deeply moving and satisfying. (It certainly made its way into my two-year-old's bedtime rotation in short order.) And the general Pooh-ness only aids that, I think, giving Hopper and Wilson a soothing and familiar feel--a special feel, really.
[Cover image courtesy of Philomel Books.]