"It Fell From the Sky" by Terry Fan and Eric Fan (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Sept. 28), ages 4-8, 56 pages, $17.99.
Whimsically anthropomorphic insects wearing little hats discover an object of mysterious beauty, and a selfish spider learns why it's good to share. Nothing in this new picture book from the authors of "The Night Gardener" would dismay the most conventional moralist — which sounds like forgettable pabulum. But the illustrations here elevate the story; their craft creates a miniature world that will leave an impression.
These pencil-like, digital and graphite drawings convey the pert delicacy of insect antennae, the airy multiplicity of dandelion seeds. There is no distant horizon: Everything happens within a nearsighted, narrow depth of field. The backdrop is uniformly sky — pale gray in daytime, charcoal black at night.
This world is only gray, black and white until a colorful glass ball plummets from the sky. It astonishes every insect and the frog and spider that find it. Kids will delight in recognizing the object, if they do, and if they don't, adults will enjoy the opportunity to introduce them.
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The beautifully fat, intricately hairy spider's four googly eyes see economic value in the colorful ball. With great effort, he constructs a marvelous setting in which to display it, called WonderVille. WonderVille includes conical anthills around which the long lines of the spider's customers spiral. (They put me in mind of the spiraling dragon tail and cone mountain in Wanda Gag's "The Funny Thing," but when I looked that up of course the style is not similar at all.)
Night scenes are dramatic. Fireflies illuminate the dandelions, transforming them into starbursts. Spots on a caterpillar's back glow; a snail's shell gleams like a pearl. As hordes of paying customers line up, the only other colored item in their gray world — leaf-money, one leaf in each customer's claw — is like a parade of glowing green torches.
Customers are not happy about the lines. Once they see the wonder, they leave and don't come back. The spider squats alone in his empty park beside his stacks of green leaves.
And then a five-legged creature descends from the sky and grabs the wondrous ball away.
Sitting alone under stars that share their light freely with everyone changes the spider's heart. He bends his immense energy into creating an even more wonderful park, with more things to see and with free admission. His generosity transforms the world so that it has colors, everywhere.
Even the sky is blue.
Read to Me is a weekly review of brief books for young people.
The Fan brothers read their new book aloud.