This is another of our favorite read-alouds, a bedtime standby and top-ten request. A while back I recommended it to Suzanne Temple (of Blessed Among Men) and she reported that it’s a favorite among her boys as well.
A boy finds a salamander in the woods and wants to keep it as a pet. His patient, down-to-earth and reasonable mother asks him a series of questions about how he will care for this pet. The boy responds with answers that are likewise reasonable—to him—but recognizable as a flight of fancy to more mature readers of the book. With each response he brings more and more of the salamander’s forest habitat into his bedroom until at the end of the book the only recognizable element of the bedroom is the bed the boy is sleeping in.
The dialog is charming. This is another book with beautiful prose that doesn’t tire the mouth or twist the tongue: “The rain will come through the open roof, and the sun, too. And vines will creep up the walls of my room, and ferns will grow under my bed. There will be big white mushrooms and moss like little stars growing around the tree stumps that the salamanders climb on.”
And the artwork? Gorgeous. I’d buy it just for the pictures, even if I didn’t like the story.
One subtle detail of the artwork that I noticed after many, many readings absolutely makes the book for me. The first page has a beautiful illustration of the boy finding the salamander under a leaf. The picture has a broad white border and the text appear on the facing white page. But as the boy gradually brings more and more of the natural environment into his bedroom, the wild elements start to encroach on that white border. At first it’s just a few leaves. Then it’s a few stumps and boulders and some leaves. Then the picture starts to melt into the border on one edge while the leaves and the salamander’s tail cross over on another edge. More and more of each two-page spread is taken up by the pictures. Finally, when the boy proposes lifting off the ceiling so the birds can sail out into the sky, there is no border left, the picture pushes to the edge of the page and the text floats in the sky. Only at the very last page, when the boy is fast asleep, do we return to broad white frame around the image of his sleeping face with the salamander sleeping nearby.
Like so many of the best children’s books, this one works on two levels, entertaining both parent and child. It feeds my need for beauty as much as Bella’s desire for me to read to her.