Review by Elizabeth Leung
Tundra, Penguin Random House Canada, 1 September 2020
72 pages, hardcover, $23.99 CAD, 978-0-73526-326-0, eBook 978-0-73526-327-7
Ages 5-9, Grades K-3
In the world of Perfect Pets, Barnabus is a failed project. Half-elephant and half-mouse, he isn’t fluffy enough and his eyes are kind of beady, so he is hidden away with the other failed projects in a secret lab deep underground and guarded by the Green Rubber Suits. Barnabus longs to be free, to see the “sparking silver lake, green trees, and mountains that reac[h] all the way to the sky, lit with their own stars.” He is desperate to break free before he is “recycled” and loses everything that makes him Barnabus.
Bestselling author and illustrators of The Night Gardener and Ocean Meets Sky, the Fan Brothers (Terry and Eric) are joined for the first time by another brother (Devin) to create The Barnabus Project. At 72-pages, it’s a goliath picture book, but a fitting length for the adventure and themes to unfold at a steady pace. The prose is sparse and elegant in its simplicity with a natural cadence which begs to be read aloud. Renowned for their illustrations, the three Fan Brothers do not disappoint. In these pages, they have created a vibrant world of animal hybrids such as the (literal) Dust Bunnies, Bumble Bear, and Mushroom Sloth to name a few. The backgrounds are full of details to discover upon each re-reading.
If the heart of the book is Barnabus’s rejection of perfection, its soul is the community of misfit projects around him. While Barnabus’s internal journey is tied with a neat bow at the end, his exterior journey—shared with the other failed projects—continues beyond the pages of the book. The group’s journey shows the strength in finding a community. Their differences echo those of other marginalized groups who struggle to not be overshadowed, subsumed, or redefined by a larger, corporate identity. The challenge to live free.
While the length and possibly frightening Green Rubber Suits skew the book towards slightly older children, The Barnabus Project is a story-time must.
The Barnabus Project will hit the shelves on September 1st, 2020!
Elizabeth Leung is a recent graduate of the Master of Arts in Children’s Literature Program at UBC. When not editing for Young Adulting, she can be found reading, dancing, or writing her middle grade space opera. In the fall, she’ll be starting her PhD at the University of Cambridge. Follow her on twitter @ezlabeth.