A Toni Morrison Treasury caters to preschoolers and young readers with a collection of eight children’s books that the late Nobel Prize-winning writer wrote with her son, Slade Morrison. Each one is illustrated by an artist chosen by Toni herself; they include Joe Cepeda, Pascal Lemaitre, Giselle Potter, Sean Qualls and Shadra Strickland. As Oprah Winfrey writes in a brief foreword, “Reading these stories is a way for children and adults to connect with one of the world’s most extraordinary authors in a new and inspiring way.”
Adults will enjoy sharing these stories with young readers, as many Morrison fans may never have encountered her writing for children. “The Big Box” is a lengthy rhyming story about three children confined to a big brown box because, according to adults, they “just can’t handle their freedom.” The tale is a delight from start to finish. At first, the big box seems to offer unfettered joys—swings and slides and treats and toys galore—but readers will soon realize it’s a prison. As the children note: “But if freedom is handled your way / Then it’s not my freedom or free.” Giselle Potter’s droll illustrations perfectly capture the strange dichotomy of their situation and their feelings of entrapment.
Pascal Lemaitre’s comic-style illustrations enliven the “Who’s Got Game?” series of fables, which pit ant against grasshopper, lion against mouse and grandfather against snake. “Poppy or the Snake” is particularly clever, and Lemaitre’s use of dark tones heightens the tension between the two protagonists. Bright green Snake’s bold, wily ways make this a fun read-aloud, especially when Poppy ends up having the last laugh.
In “Peeny Butter Fudge,” a lively homage to raucously wild days with a grandmother, Joe Cepada’s bright illustrations ramp up the rollicking fun had by two sisters, a brother and their high-spirited Nana. Readers can continue on their own by making the recipe for the titular treat, which is included at the end. “Please, Louise” rounds out the collection, showing how a young girl’s day is brightened by a trip to the library: “So smile as the stories unfurl / where beauty and wonder cannot hide. / Because reading books is a pleasing guide.” Shadra Strickland reinforces this message with engaging art beginning with dark, dreary colors on a stormy day that gradually morph into a rainbow.