Candlewick, 2020. Hardcover Picture book, 40pp
A textless picture book, Tanaka transports a dandelion and the reader on an adventure of wonder and imagination. A dandelion sprouts, and what unfurls is an actual little lion, who with paws (no roots) can move about. It (lion and picture book) does not take this dandelion’s mobility or inspirations for granted. And we’ll see a full and exciting life with a mythic conclusion.
The fluorescent yellow of the lion’s mane and tail is vivid against its charcoal backdrops; the lion’s figure a sharp outline against the soft textured fluff of a sheep’s wool. Tanaka’s work is stunning, and unusual. Her character is solid in an otherwise fanciful story; the real world is what appear dream-like in its wash of shadow and light.
The companions, the experiences, the lion finds along the way are a fascination. The lion happens to land on the back of a sheep, who happens to carry it along to a ship, where we see a gull and worry about how small and delicious? lion might appear, but we needn’t have feared for lion. Then there is the scale of things, the way Tanaka shifts focus while never implying the lion too small or incapable.
The drama of Tanaka’s textless narrative builds and deepens. Its cinematic quality enthralling as the posture of the lion (back turned) leaves an impression before we turn the page and note the change. It’s a pause in breath and then the delight of that wonderful moment where the lion takes new flight.
Neither Tanaka nor the lion will waste a moment. They are full of exhilaration. That lion’s face is not subtle at all; this book is one full of wonderment and sheer joy—and it will elicit the same in its reader.
Yoko Tanaka has illustrated novels, including The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, and picture books, including Princessland by Emily Jenkins and Sparrow Girl by Sara Pennypacker. Yoko Tanaka lives in London.