Du Iz Tak?

It's a bold move to write a picture book in a made-up language, but Carson Ellis (Home) aces it in Du Iz Tak?, which probably means "What is that?"

As a green plant begins to push its way out of the ground, a vaudevillian, man-faced caterpillar examines it silently. A couple of stylishly accessorized winged insects cautiously approach the unfurling green frond. "Du iz tak?" asks one. "Ma nazoot," responds the other, which might mean, "I don't know." Meanwhile, the man-faced caterpillar has climbed a nearby branch to metamorphose into a cocoon: "Ta ta!" As the sprout grows, more and more insects investigate, uttering initially indecipherable comments such as "Ru badda unk ribble." "Su," says another. "Bore inkin Icky," says another. By the next page readers will figure out that "Icky" is a pillbug who lives inside a log (he comes out when called) and "ribble" is a ladder that they need to climb the ever-growing plant. The excitement of figuring out the bugs' language is unexpectedly thrilling. Now we know "Ru" is "we," "badda" is "need," "unk" is "a" and "ribble" is ladder! We're learning bug language!

High drama ensues in the clean, odd, beautiful pages ahead. The insects decide to build an elaborate, multi-level, pirate-flagged "furt" in the plant--excellent for luxuriating with a fruity drink--but the perils of nature (big spider, swooping spider-eating bird, the change of seasons) all take their toll on the plant and inevitably, their splendid furt. Snow blankets the previously festive scene, but on the next spread a crop of new green sprouts appears: "Du iz tak?" A marvel. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

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