In Mabel and Sam, a funny three-part adventure by Linda Urban, there is a moment that perfectly captures one of the stranger parts of moving into a new house. Mabel her brother Sam stare at a rocking chair. Because it’s in a new spot in a new room in their new house, they see the chair anew: “Now the lullaby chair looked like a stranger.” But it’s these new-home reconfigurations that spark their imaginations while the adults around them loudly pile boxes.
In the first story, which is dominated by cool blue illustrations from Hadley Hooper, Mabel and Sam are overwhelmed by all the people bustling about. They find a quiet spot in a room where there is large rug with an empty box on it, “And that is how Mabel became a Sea Captain.” In the second story, illustrated with warm honey hues, the aforementioned lullaby chair prompts the pair to take an imaginary museum tour with Mabel leading her brother through the house. In the third story, with its grey-blue shaded pictures, Mabel and Sam transform a box and bed covers into a rocket ship and have a thrilling space adventure. In each instance, Mabel takes the lead. There’s much humor in the children’s dialogue, especially in the ways in which Mabel calls the shots.
Hooper’s retro, textured illustrations, rendered via printmaking techniques, expertly capture the joyous dynamics of imaginative sibling play in this lengthy story. (I love this longer text in a day where minimalist picture book texts dominate.) Mabel and Sam are so endearing; maybe we readers will be lucky enough to see them in a sequel.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.