Review of Over the Shop

Over the Shop
by JonArno Lawson; illus. by Qin Leng
Primary    Candlewick    48 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-5362-0147-5    $16.99

As in Sidewalk Flowers (rev. 5/15), author Lawson conceptualized the story for this wordless picture book. Here, words appear only as text within the illustrations (a sign displays the name of the titular shop as Lowell’s General Store; a card in the shop window reads “Apartment for Rent”). Leng’s watercolor and ink illustrations channel Quentin Blake and David Small in their loose lines and expressive characterization. A gruff shopkeeper lives behind the shop, in a neglected, rundown building, with a child. The overall atmosphere is one of gloom and disconnection: a next-door neighbor often sits on a stoop reading, but everyone keeps to themselves; a stray cat comes begging, only to be shooed away by the shopkeeper. Deft use of panels helps establish the sequence of events as the child offers the cat food and later encourages the shopkeeper to rent the apartment to a young couple (one of whom can be read as nonbinary, as can several other characters in the book). Once they move in, everything begins to brighten and change for the better: the couple spruces up the place and begins helping out in the shop, which visibly softens the shopkeeper’s disposition. Even the cat leaves the alley to join the household. A finishing touch is a rainbow flag hung outside the front window, near the shop’s sign, which now reads Lowell & Friends General Store, marking it as a space of warmth, community, and yes, pride.

From the March/April 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Megan Dowd Lambert
Megan Dowd Lambert

Megan Dowd Lambert is an instructor at Simmons University’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. For nearly ten years she also worked in the education department of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

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