When I was little, my cousins used to entertain me with shadow puppets. They created horses and dogs and bunny rabbits marching across the wall, while all I could make was a flapping bird, usually headless. The animals fought, fell apart, merged into one another. Sometimes we used blankets as caves, but we weren’t strong enough to move the furniture, so pretty soon we’d quit and call it a day.
In Shadow by Suzy Lee, a little girl plays a game that puts my childhood exploits to shame. On page one she stands in the middle of a neat garage. There are some cardboard boxes, a stepladder, old peeling boots and a bike hanging from the ceiling. Below, on the facing page, are the black silhouettes of each object, their clearly defined shadows set against a white background.
The girl stands on one leg. She flaps her hands and voilà! a bird takes flight on the shadow side of the page. As her imagination grows, so does the shadow world: the silhouette of a broomstick morphs into giant flowers; the stepladder becomes a glade of palm trees. Pretty soon the garage disappears, replaced by dark shapes and flickering yellow light. The girl pirouettes in a jungle; she runs from a wolf-like monster and holds hands with an elephant. A swan cavorts around her head. There’s a leaping rabbit, a question mark-shaped snake, and finally, reconciliation with the monster.
It’s no wonder the New York Times listed Shadow as one of the top ten illustrated children’s books of 2010. The pictures are simply magical. Everything in the real world—the boxes, the boots, the dancing girl—are sketched in monochromatic gray, while the fantastic shadows resemble black paper cutouts sprinkled with golden dust. With each page the spots of yellow grow larger in size, until the entire background is the color of a sunflower; we might be looking at revolving images before a fire-lit lantern.
Alas, the fun ends all too soon. A sudden cry of “Dinner’s ready!” throws the world into reverse. We’re back in the garage, staring at piles of household goods.
The girl waves good-bye. Smiling, she turns off the light.
Or is it?
From total darkness, the light clicks on. As for what happens next, you’ll have to read the book to find out.