Review of The Great Zapfino

The Great Zapfino The Great Zapfino
by Mac Barnett; illus. by Marla Frazee
Preschool, Primary    Beach Lane/Simon    32 pp.    g
4/22    978-1-5344-1154-8    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-5344-1155-5    $10.99

The stage is set, the circus curtains part, and out walks the short, bald, and unassuming Great Zapfino, who will leap from death-defying heights onto a tiny trampoline. Barnett plays up the drama from the story’s breathtaking launch, as the ringmaster promises: “Zapfino will dodge peril and brave calamity in an impossible feat of derring-do!” But after climbing a towering ladder, the performer looks down, glances at readers, and then disappears. In the following wordless scenes, we see him hop on a plane to a sunny seaside town and, fittingly, take a job as an elevator operator in a high rise. This quiet new life is good until he inadvertently starts a fire with his toaster. It is finally in this moment that, in order to save his own life, the man triumphantly leaps from the top floor (“Behold!”) onto a trampoline held by firefighters. Readers can interpret the story in more than one way: does Zapfino overcome a fear of heights in a moment of crisis? Had he merely been tired of the pressure to perform? Perhaps he wants to accomplish the leap all on his own, without a showy cape and the probing eyes of an audience. Most of the story plays out wordlessly in Frazee’s animated grayscale pencil ­illustrations. With its expert pacing and delightful details, this is a splendid collaboration between two picture-book greats.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson
Julie Danielson writes about picture books at the blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. She also writes for Kirkus Reviews and BookPage and is a lecturer for the School of Information Sciences graduate program at the University of Tennessee. Her book Wild Things!: Acts of Mischief in Children’s Literature, written with Betsy Bird and Peter D. Sieruta, was published in 2014.

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