Lauded author, illustrator, and art educator Irene Luxbacher’s sweetly nostalgic new picture book begins with its titular character gazing out the window and sipping a cup of tea as he contemplates the day’s work ahead.
Despite a decades-long career as a tailor who’s made “very special clothes for a lot of very special people,” Mr. Frank can’t recall ever being as excited as he is about the order he’s just received. The mystery outfit isn’t revealed until the book’s conclusion, and Luxbacher uses the pages in between to stretch out the suspense with a surreptitious lesson in 20th-century fashion. As a young boy in the 1940s, Mr. Frank had mended soldiers’ uniforms; in the ’50s he cut dapper suits. The ’60s were about hemming as skirts were abbreviated into minis. The ’70s demanded bell-bottoms, the ’80s patched jeans, the ’90s tutus.
The latest outfit will demand all of Mr. Frank’s acquired talents: it must be stylish, playful, and dazzling, comfortable yet strong. It must be so singular, in fact, that nothing will ever again “seem special enough to thread another needle for.”
Inspired by Luxbacher’s childhood watching her father at work in his own tailor shop, Mr. Frank has a deeply personal feel. Indeed, what makes Mr. Frank’s project so special isn’t the outfit itself – which turns out to be a superhero costume – but the client it’s intended for: his delighted grandson.
Luxbacher’s warm, collage-style illustrations incorporate a variety of media, including photography, to bring the patterns and textures of the textiles in Mr. Frank’s shop (and his memory) to life, their deconstruction offering a perfect metaphorical reflection of the book’s subject matter.
It will be obvious to any adult reader that Mr. Frank’s grandson will outgrow the outfit too quickly to merit the thousand wearings and washes he believes it needs to endure. Maybe Mr. Frank secretly thinks it too: the book’s ending brings with it a subtle suggestion that his grandson’s future costume needs will prevent the tailor from putting down his needle any time soon.