Review of Is Was

Is Was
by Deborah Freedman; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Atheneum    40 pp.    g
5/21    978-1-5344-7510-6    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-7511-3    $10.99

Freedman’s ethereal picture book tackles the slippery nature of impermanence through simple observations of the natural world. A small yellow bird flits across a pale blue sky and into a sudden rain. Soon, though: “The same rain that was drips / is now for sips / and song.” The bird drinks from a small puddle as a chipmunk scurries by and a fox wanders in, while nearly translucent type appears to show what “is! is!” The spare, poetic text is expertly paced across the pages. With each page-turn, small creatures weave through subtly shifting terrain. A bird’s song ­disappears to make way for a bee’s buzzing, and the once-blue, once-rainy sky shifts again as the sun sets. Dappled watercolor illustrations deftly convey the blurred ­barriers between what is and what was, while the penciled details — a delicate spiderweb, a raptor’s talons — sharpen focus on the wonders of the natural world. At last, a family watches the day fade into an indigo night as the text reassures: “Still, this sky is / the same sky / that was.” A muted, meditative, transcendent picture book that invites readers to marvel at both the ephemeral and the enduring.

From the July/August 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Grace McKinney
Grace McKinney

Grace McKinney holds an MA in Children's Literature from Simmons University and reviews for the Horn Book Magazine. She works at a Montessori school in St. Louis, Missouri, and writes about children's books and Montessori on the blog Cosmic Bookshelf.

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