Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
This speculative tale from the late Ungerer offers a dark view of the future--and a sliver of hope. Vasco, a small figure in a green newsboy cap, wanders the ruined world alone: "Flowers had turned into memories.... Everyone had gone to the moon." His long black shadow stretches before him, pointing a long finger to warn him away from collapsing buildings and random explosions. Ungerer renders these hilarious close shaves in capital letters--"JUST IN TIME!" Crisply outlined, brilliantly lit urban settings are desolate but not frightening; the shadow keeps Vasco safe. A beetle-like creature entrusts Vasco with its tiny swaddled child, and Vasco keeps "doubt and fear at bay, by focusing on Poco's sweet little face." He follows his shadow's directions into the desert, where he finds a giant cake, an iced refuge with "ample supplies of everything." Though Vasco's trusty shadow disappears, Vasco and Poco live contentedly from then on in the layered cake home. Ungerer acknowledges the threats that Earth faces ("A heatwave followed close behind,/ melting the ice at their heels"), but Vasco and Poco survive them all. Humankind may teeter on the edge of disaster, Ungerer acknowledges, but it may endure anyway--somehow. Ages 5--8. (Sept.)
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Review by Horn Book Review
This posthumous work by iconoclastic picture-book creator Ungerer is austere and puzzling, yet ultimately hopeful. Left behind on a lifeless dystopian planet ("Birds, butterflies, and rats were gone. Grass and leaves had withered. Flowers had turned into memories...Everyone had gone to the moon"), a man named Vasco roams adrift from one harrowing scenario to the next. Adhering to an idiosyncratic sense of logic, physics, and time, he is literally guided through the narrative by his sentient shadow, which consistently saves him "JUST IN TIME!" At one point, charged with delivering a letter to the wife of a tentacled green creature named Nothing, Vasco survives a flood of biblical proportions to make the delivery. At the request of Nothing's ailing wife, Vasco adopts the couple's green child, Poco, and together they continue the journey. The pair endures pits of "gargling" magma, globs of lilac gelatin, and brigades of tanks, ultimately arriving at a cake-shaped refuge in the middle of a desert. An afterword reveals that the two "are still aging there, sheltered in peace." The surreal landscapes are dominated by simplified geometric forms, bold shadows, and strong horizon lines. Each illustration is singular, intriguing, and diffused with peculiar colors. This disorientating tale references several well-worn stories of adventure, exodus, and environmental turmoil; however, its greatest strength is found in its heroes' resilience against all odds. Patrick Gall September/October 2020 p.77(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
The great maverick illustrator sends Earth's last two beings on a dreamlike odyssey in this posthumous and, possibly, final outing. Through empty streets wanders Vasco, aimlessly following his long shadow--which guides him safely past toppling buildings, sudden floods, and other dangers to an abandoned hospital, where he finds and takes charge of Poco, a green, insectile child. Everyone else has, as the spare narrative has it, "gone to the moon," and even the plants and animals have disappeared. All that is left are desolate land- and cityscapes, infused in the illustrations with low-angled light and feelings of loneliness. Together the adult and child make their way through further hazards ranging from a refinery on the brink of collapse to a cluster of tree-eating military tanks, on the way at last to a "phantasmagorical" new home…which turns out to be a giant cake where the two remain, "sheltered in peace" thereafter. Though catastrophes to be escaped (as the refrain has it) "JUST IN TIME!" rear up with titular frequency, they are so neatly drawn as to have a ritualistic air, not so much creating dramatic highlights as checking off surreal disasters natural or otherwise. The two figures are drawn generally back to viewers and remain tiny on the page, but they still draw both eye and heart as, holding resolutely on to each other, they weather every threat to reach safe harbor at last. "DON'T HOPE COPE" reads a sign that Vasco passes in one scene. As last words go, not bad. A dark vision with optimistic, even puckish, strains burnishes a unique legacy. (Picture book. 9-up) Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.