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Missing Lines and Magical Lions

By Nancy King

Willoughby and the LionI am not embarrassed to admit that I have wept while reading certain children’s books. The Dot by Peter Reynolds and David Macaulay’s Angelo immediately spring to mind but I know there have been others. These aren’t sad books (well, Angelo is a little sad)-they are stories that get at something both so inexpressible and delicate and yet so enormous and breathtaking that they leave me filled with awe, and tears.

I have two new books to add to the list: Willoughby & The Lion and Tommaso and the Missing Line. Each one is about a young boy on a quest, but that’s where the similarities end.

Willoughby is written by Greg Foley, an author-illustrator who attended the Rhode Island School of Design. The drawings are spare and lovely, with a sophistication that is perfectly suited to the weighty question that lies at the heart of the story: What is the most wonderful thing of all? But allow me to backtrack: the book is about a boy named Willoughby who hates his new house because it’s too small and too far away from any kind of a friend. Then he meets a magnificent, enchanted lion who offers him ten wishes-and when Willoughby wishes for the most wonderful thing of all, the lion will be free to go home and run through the fields with other lions. I won’t give any more away-because there are secrets and surprises inside the book’s covers–but believe me when I tell you that this story, purportedly for children ages four to seven, left this forty-something pondering its meaning for some time. (It also convinced me that my first wish would be to spend a day hanging out with a magical, talking lion.)Tommaso and the Missing Line

I think that Tommaso and the Missing Line is all about art-and seeing artistic beauty everywhere and in the everyday. But I got something slightly different from my reading. The story begins when Tommaso suddenly discovers that a line in his favorite drawing has vanished. Lines don’t just disappear, his mother says, but Tommaso’s has, so he sets out to look for it. As he searches, he encounters many other lines-a dog’s leash, a car antenna-but he insists, “That’s not the one I mean.” He ultimately solves the mystery by returning to the place where he made the drawing: his grandmother’s house in the Italian countryside. Since art is always open to interpretation, I won’t impose my reading of the story on you, but if you decide to treat yourself (oh, and your kids) to a copy, please let me know what you took away from it.

I can’t promise that you’ll be moved to tears by the adventures of Willoughby and Tommaso, but I can certainly promise that you’ll be moved.

Willoughby & The Lion by Greg Foley
$17.99 HarperCollins

Tommaso and the Missing Line by Matteo Pericoli
$15.99 Random House Children’s Books

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  • My sons and I adored these books. In addition to being moved to tears by these stories, I agree with Nancy about The Dot and Angelo. I will add to my list of weepy reads: Hugo Cabret (review to follow soon) and Kamishibai Man by Allen Say.

  • When the Wind Blew makes me cry, for no reason deeper than: being elderly and alone with only cats for company would be a hard life. Something about the pace of it and the snug illustrations.

  • I love your book reviews. There are so many cheesey children’s books to sort through and your choices help me cut through all of that.