From the outset, it’s clear that Julie Morstad’s How To is a very special book. Each page features the Vancouver artist’s trademark pen-and-ink drawings of kids just being kids: taking things slow (by lying in a field surrounded by butterflies, flowers, and tall grass), feeling the breeze (by riding a bike downhill), and making music (by whacking pots and pans with a spoon). All of Morstad’s illustrations are beautifully realized, most of them with a spot of silliness that will keep young readers’ interest piqued just enough for that last, sleepy book before bedtime.
The first page sets the tone. Morstad’s parade of kids trooping across the page give just a few examples of “How to go fast,” but serve to open the imagination to myriad others: walking, running, dancing, bouncing, or twirling, alone or in the company of friends. There are as many ways to go fast as there are kids to imagine them.
“How to be brave” and “How to make friends” might bring on misty eyes and a lump in the throat, while “How to disappear,” “How to make a sandwich,” and “How to be a mermaid” are guaranteed to elicit giggles, and are worth a try at playtime or in the bath.
Compared with countless books that try so very hard to teach a lesson or prove a point, this one delights with its easy, unforced relationship between words and pictures. The text is very short, but any parent craving something to talk to their child about at storytime will find opportunities to stretch it out – children can discuss what makes them feel brave or happy, or describe the sensation of the wind on their skin. They can draw it. They can act it out. They can enjoy it, and so will you. Rarely are books so alive.