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Review of Uncle Holland

Uncle Holland
by JonArno Lawson; illus. by Natalie Nelson
Primary    Groundwood    32 pp.
4/17    978-1-55498-929-4    $17.95

Lawson, author of the touching Sidewalk Flowers (rev. 5/15), returns with a whimsical story based on his uncle Holland, who was always getting into trouble as a child. With an eye for pretty things and a penchant for stealing, young Holland gets caught one too many times and is given the difficult choice of going to jail or joining the army. He chooses the army. His family is heartbroken, and his father decides “to spend the rest of his life watching his fish” because “fish can’t disappoint me.” Despite some serious moments, the overall tone of the book is irreverent, due in large part to Nelson’s playful use of digital collage (which incorporates found photography) and energetic ink drawings. Her art takes on an added vibrancy when Holland leaves his drab home for the sumptuously tropical location to which the army sends him. There, Holland is particularly captivated by the beautiful fish, which he knows his father would appreciate. An inspired Holland decides to replace petty theft with a new hobby: painting. He sells his paintings and earns enough to send both money and a beautiful fish painting to his parents. In this way, Holland eventually works his way back into his family’s good graces. The book ends on a redemptive note, but thankfully avoids turning into a heavy-handed morality play. This quirky picture book is also a good reminder that you don’t have to be a figure of historical importance to have a captivating life story.

From the May/June 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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Minh Lê About Minh Lê

Minh Lê is the author of Drawn Together, illustrated by Dan Santat, and Let Me Finish!, illustrated by Isabel Roxas. He blogs about children's literature at Bottom Shelf Books and writes and reviews for a variety of publications, including the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and The Horn Book Magazine. He served on the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee.

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