Jessie Sima presents the entertaining story of Spencer’s New Pet as if it were an old black-and-white motion picture. The book opens with a film leader, the countdown from three to one with large numbers in rotating circles. The book’s art deco typeface—for the titles of the story’s three main parts, presented like the intertitles of a silent film (the book is otherwise wordless)—resembles film fonts from the middle of the last century. Throughout the book, rendered on a palette of varying shades of gray, Sima even simulates iris shots, a technique frequently used in silent films. A spare, warm red is devoted to only two objects in the book.
A boy leads his new balloon animal, tied by a clown, about on a leash, and the danger of popping seems to lurk around every corner. But what appears to be the simple story of a boy enjoying his new balloon animal as if it’s a pet turns out to be otherwise.
Once the big reveal comes at the book’s close—who is really holding the leash, exactly?—readers will want to immediately reread to look for clues. (In one spread, for instance, the boy reads Pygmalion, the classic Greek myth, to his new pet.) The twist even takes the book’s tone in a creepy direction (delightfully so).
Readers will understand that things are not always what they seem—and will thrill at the drama that unfolds in this surprising and suspenseful homage to silent films.
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.