October 2023


illustrated by Hui Li
Review by
A writing lesson in Scroll blossoms into a magical adventure with ancient Chinese characters in one of the most unique stories of the year—one that is as educational as it is entertaining.
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Grandpa is teaching Lulu and her dog, Dumpling, the art of drawing ancient Chinese characters. But when Grandpa dozes off, Lulu draws the character for door—which becomes a real portal to a fantastic adventure. It’s a good thing Lulu paid close attention to Grandpa’s lessons, because she is going to need her new skills to save the day. Written and illustrated by Hui Li, Scroll (Christy Ottaviano, $18.99, 9780316340731) is a beautifully drawn, cleverly told tale of bravery and wit.

Artistically, Scroll is one of the most unique books on shelves today. Li uses a combination of multiple media on watercolor paper to create a soft, washed and welcoming backdrop. Lulu’s bright red overalls stand out against the muted environment of Lulu and Grandpa’s home, which is calm but full of detail. When Lulu and Dumpling go through the door into a magical village, Li’s art shifts from simply charming to mesmerizing. The village and its boats, houses, fish, nets and people are full of life and personality. But what makes the art truly remarkable is that each one is stunningly wrought from ancient Chinese characters. Little red boxes across the top of each page explain each character used, but this key is hardly needed since Li incorporates them in ways that make it easy to understand their meanings. Li’s style culminates in a dangerous battle scene that is one of the most unique and stunning bits of picture book art this reviewer has ever seen.

The narration is carried by simple and forthright dialogue as Lulu talks herself through each challenge, which helps the reader feel like part of the journey. Both the front and back matter give an intriguing peek into the rich history of Chinese language and culture, but ultimately, Li’s story is accessible even without any prior knowledge.

Scroll is deceptively modest, starting with its cover, which depicts a writing lesson that blossoms into one of the most unique stories of the year—one that is as educational as it is entertaining. As Lulu discovers, wonders await those who take a chance and dive in.

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illustrated by Hui Li
Christy Ottaviano
ISBN 9780316340731

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