“Like a car seat for your brain” is how Blair Thornburgh describes skulls in her informational picture book of the same name. Written in a second person voice (“You probably don’t think much about skulls”), Skulls! introduces a young girl who starts to see those around her in eye-opening ways as an unknown narrator describes the purpose and functions of skulls in the human body.
In the book’s second full spread, the girl sees a crowd of people around her, and at the page turn she sees them just as they were but with their skulls exposed. Illustrator Scott Campbell’s funny and affectionate watercolor illustrations (the Grim Reaper with a juice box, a mummy with a guitar and a pirate’s bearded skull, chomping on a hot dog) keep matters from getting too grisly. Skulls are “not trying to be scary,” after all. “They can’t help the way they look.”
Thornburgh draws in the reader with the immediate and direct “you” by pointing out the many ways in which the reader benefits from having a skull and emphasizing the importance of taking care of it. Appended are “Cool Skull Facts!” that close with an enthusiastic command to declare love for one’s skull. (“Say it again: I love my skull!”) The purple-tone opening endpapers show the heads of various humans, and the closing ones show the same humans—but with skulls exposed.
Skulls may often be associated with death and mortality, but this life-affirming book is breezy and ebullient. You can say it again: Skulls were never more fun.
Julie Danielson conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.