In her ambitious new picture book, Carson Ellis brings readers a story of optimism and renewal, featuring an invented language. They are words used by a world of talking insects to communicate their wonder over and admiration for a vibrant flower that appears where they make their home.
“Du is tak?” one damselfly asks another on the book’s first spread, as the two stare at a fledgling green shoot popping from the earth. “Ma nazoot” is the reply. Meanwhile, a hairy caterpillar hanging from a nearby branch waves goodbye to readers with a hearty “Ta ta!” and a big grin. The insects gather, gazing in fascination at the growing plant, and they eventually knock on the door of Icky, an elderly, bowler hat-wearing pill bug who watches as the insects, including some eager beetles, build a fort on the plant. Tragedy turns to triumph when a spider who has built a web on the plant is destroyed by a bird. Soon after the bugs rebuild their “furt,” a beautiful flower blossoms.
But since all living things must come to their end, the flower dies at the onset of winter. “Ta ta, furt.” On the next spread, readers are treated to a glorious nighttime scene, the plant withered and drooping, while a winged insect plays a dirge on his fiddle. The serenade takes place atop the cocoon—remember our retiring caterpillar?—only to reveal a soaring, triumphant moth on the next spread. Because life, after all, sometimes defies the odds and springs forth from destruction.
Ellis’ precise and detailed illustrations of bespectacled bugs and an elaborate fort utterly beguile. She never switches up her perspective, bringing readers the same location with her insects entering and exiting as if on stage. The colors are rich, and the inventive text is captivating, begging to be read repeatedly. It would be easy to make such a story clever for the sake of being clever, but instead Ellis has created one of the smartest, most original and most endearing picture books of this year.
Du iz tak? It’s a keeper is what it is.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.