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Playing Possum
Jennifer Black Reinhardt. Clarion, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-328-78270-0
In this mellow story exploring friendship and self-understanding, Alfred the opossum is perpetually nervous, so he often instinctively “freezes and plays dead.” Since he deems making friends “too terrifying to contemplate,” the marsupial is lonely, until, while browsing an outdoor bookshelf, he notices Sophia the armadillo doing the same, and—in one of the story’s wittier pictures—he immediately freezes, prone on the ground, atop a book titled Nothing to Fear. Similarly startled, Sophia automatically curls up into a ball, and after the two have “unfroze” and “unfurled,” they recognize their common bond. Reinhardt (Blue Ethel) expands the scope of her tale as the protagonists’ newfound camaraderie and mutual support awakens a broader empathy, driving them to reach out to their fellow skittish woodland creatures. As a result, the other characters (including a chameleon, porcupine, skunk, and tortoise) eschew their isolating defense mechanisms and enjoy time together. The author’s minimal text leaves the primary storytelling role to her gently dappled, luminous mixed-media art, which features springtime hues and an anthropomorphized cast. Notes on the spotlighted animals’ self-protective behaviors cap this sensitive tale. Ages 4–7. Agent: Marietta Zacker, Gallt & Zacker Literary. (July)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on 05/22/2020

Release date 07/21/2020

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