“The Ramble Shamble Children” by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Nancy Paulsen Books, March 9), ages 3-7, 32 pages, hardcover $17.99, ebook $10.99.
STORY: Five kids live alone, no adults in sight and no explanation why. Their house looks rickety, and they have a lot of work to keep up. Each does a part. Merra manages the garden; Locky and Roozle spook blackbirds; Finn feeds chickens. The baby, Jory, sits in mud puddles to ensure they don't go anywhere.
The kids feed themselves well, and they snuggle together at bedtime. It's a sweet life — until they read a book about a "proper" home. Feeling suddenly less than, they turn to "proper up" their house and garden with roses bushes and other fanciness. This involves smoothing away the mud puddles, because mud's not proper.
The upgrade doesn't work out so well, and they lose track of Jory. He disappears.
Soontornvat's luminous middle school novel "A Wish in the Dark" took a well deserved Newbery honor in January, as did her nonfiction account of the rescue of a boys soccer team from a cave, "All Thirteen." I haven't read "All Thirteen," but "A Wish in the Dark" is a delicate, vivid variation on "Les Miserables" set in a fantastical Thailand. Its depiction of life in a youth prison camp is especially convincing.
Although very different, this picture book is also a story about a community of children who don't see themselves as they are. The illustrations are recognizably by Lauren Castillo but charmingly untidy, matching the occasion.
To hear the author talk about how she writes, see arkansasonline.com/510wish.
Read to Me is a weekly review of short books.