In the Dark

Knopf. Aug. 2023. 40p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780593372838.
Gr 1-3–An all-but-bifurcated page makes a mystery of events in the woods, with a gossipy, speculative narrative running across the top of spreads, and a quieter, more neutral reporting of activities on the bottom: “They came in the dark and took the narrow path that only witches used. Everyone said that’s what they were,” is the book’s opening line, but below it in italics, it reads, “It was a woods full of birds.” The tone of suspicion deepens. Along the top, the story is, “They danced around fires at night—witches’ brew.” By contrast, a cheery glow lights the bottom half of the page, accompanied by the words, “We made our own light.” A blonde child from the gloaming on the upper part of the page begins to interact with a dark-haired child of the lower part, whom readers later see dancing joyfully, right before an illustration of “their” dark shapes filling the skies. As the two stories intersect, suspicion gives way to grudging admission of truth, and then genuine regret for the misguided assumptions. The people who took the narrow path were building and flying kites. The simplicity of the two tales, which were inevitably headed for collision, combined with distilled use of colors, hidden by great inky sweeps of black, give this book the clarity of a church bell ringing in the distance. When shapes become visible, revealing a diverse group of celebrants in scenes that dance with purple, gold, blue and green, readers will shake off the haunting beginning, but turn to it again. The story's lesson takes hold quietly and honestly. It’s a bit shaming for adults; children may not grasp the gravity of the misunderstandings.
VERDICT A bold venture in storytelling will appeal to children for its overall atmospherics and the twist in the plot, but the finger-pointing is aimed squarely at us.

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