Little Cap is a shy, anxious mushroom who feels safest when surrounded by the comforts of home and the companionship of his best friend, Gustav, a lovable slug. But one day, Little Cap discovers that the gate of his white picket fence is open and Gustav is nowhere to be found, so he musters his courage, packs a bag and ventures into the unknown to find his friend.
Along the way, Little Cap faces many obstacles. He must scale a rocky cliff and traverse a fathomless gorge. He’s even forced to deal with the indignities of life in the wilderness when he steps “in something really, really gross.” He also meets his woodland neighbors, including a mole, a toad, a mouse and a grasshopper. Many of the creatures seem kind and willing to help, and one of them has even seen Gustav! The news spurs Little Cap on, even as he continues to worry about his friend. But will he ever find Gustav?
Andrea Zuill’s Gustav Is Missing! is a heartfelt picture book filled with lively detail and personality. Her expressive illustrations capture every emotion Little Cap experiences on his journey, from trepidation and frustration to fierce determination and bravery. Zuill makes Little Cap’s small-scale world feel large and expansive through whimsical touches such as dandelions as tall as trees. Text and image contradict each other in several funny moments, as when Little Cap expresses distrust of “highly suspicious individuals” and we see him backing slowly away from an innocent-looking stalk of broccoli.
Zuill created distinct, playful characters in previous books such as Regina Is NOT a Little Dinosaur and Cat Dog Dog (written by Nelly Buchet), and Little Cap and Gustav are adorable additions to her repertoire. With his white-spotted red hat, Little Cap is recognizable as a fly agaric mushroom, but his blue overalls and big, circular-framed eyeglasses give him a childlike quality. Meanwhile, Gustav’s bright red collar and yellow body bring to mind an affectionate golden retriever; in one vignette, Little Cap pats Gustav’s head as the slug’s tongue lolls out of his mouth like a panting dog.
Young readers who enjoy friendship tales and pet stories, and especially those in need of a fable about confronting fears, will cheer for Little Cap at every step of his quest. Be sure to look for Gustav on the book’s endpapers as well. You never know where that silly slug might be hiding!