Review of The Little Barbarian

The Little Barbarian
by Renato Moriconi; illus. by the author
Preschool    Eerdmans    48 pp.
8/18    978-0-8028-5509-1    $17.00

The little barbarian strides in, page left. Armed with sword and shield, he mounts his handsome black steed and proceeds through a malevolent world. Spread after spread, he gallops over and under hazards and monsters — a deep crevasse, a pit of vipers, a gang of one-eyed warriors brandishing spears, flying imps with pitchforks, a lake of fire. There are no battles; no engagement. The barbarian is unscathed, implacable, dignified, eyes closed, jaw fixed. But when, at last, he finds himself alone on an empty white page he opens his eyes and begins to cry. A giant, bearded god reaches down from above. On the final spread we see a distraught little boy and his father walking away from a merry-go-round, leaving a black carousel horse behind. Brazilian artist Moriconi makes the most of the wordless format, leaving plenty of room for interpretation. Most obviously the little barbarian’s distress is caused by the end of the ride, but we wonder why he kept his eyes closed the whole time. Perhaps the experience was too scary, especially if you’re good at imagining fantastical creatures. Moriconi also makes creative use of an unusual trim size. On the tall, skinny page we see our hero’s position — top, bottom, top, bottom, echoing the rhythm of a carousel horse. Deep transparent watercolors, masterful use of white space to build suspense, and a satisfying surprise add up to a stunningly original picture book.

From the November/December 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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