Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson, illus. by Qin Leng

Review by Logaine Navascués

Candlewick Press (Penguin Random House), January 2021

48 pages, hardcover, $22.99 CAD, ISBN 978-1-5362-0147-5

Ages 3-7, Grades Pre-K–3

Picture Book, Contemporary Realism

The beauty of wordless picture books lies not only in the images they show, but also in the hidden narratives left for readers to discover. At first glance, Over the Shop is a simple and linear story about a little girl and her grandparent, and their intent to find renters for the second floor of the tattered building where their shop is located. However, the gentle subtleties of the images tell a much deeper and tender tale: one of acceptance, hope, and friendship.

Just as he did in Sidewalk Flowers, JonArno Lawson captures seemingly trifling aspects of everyday life and turns them into a memorable and moving account. Told through Qin Leng’s watercolour illustrations and cinematic perspective, the story becomes a captivating visual poem. The series of panels in different sizes shape the narrative, creating its rhythm. The soft colour palette and light hues also enhance the lyrical tone of the book, yet the illustrations feel very energetic and real. There is always something happening at either the forefront or the background, making each scene extremely attractive and fun to look at.

While the characters’ actions, gestures, and expressions move the story forward, repetitive panel layouts and full-page illustrations also slow down its pace, inviting readers to stop and look at every detail. This exercise in close observation affords even more potential interpretations and encourages many questions. The different events that happen in and around the shop finally come together as we witness how this space changes from an old building into a loveable and livable home, full of warmth and hope.

Leng’s loose strokes add an extra touch of intimacy, and effectively convey what the story is about: the power of human connection and personal contact. This is a tale about the bonds and bridges that can be built between beings of different ages, races, gender identities, and even species to create a real sense of community. This is a story worth rediscovering many times.

Logaine Navascués is a Peruvian artist, writer, creative director, teacher, and book maker, currently living in Vancouver. She is the proud mother of a beautiful daughter and two artist’s books. You can find her reading, collecting picture books, and eating chocolate while pursuing her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (MACL) at UBC.

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