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Uncle Wally’s Old Brown Shoe

by Wallace Edwards

The main appeal of a book by Wallace Edwards is its astounding illustrations. Trained at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Edwards has garnered acclaim for his artistic talent since his first picture book, Alphabeasts, won the Governor General’s Literary Award for illustration in 2002. His latest effort evokes that work, with the added bonus of a fun cumulative text based on the classic nursery rhyme The House that Jack Built.

Uncle Wally is a tiger, resplendent in red-and-white-striped pyjamas and a solitary brown oxford. His missing shoe has all the fun in this story, as it is driven by a kitten, who is tickled by a pig in a fancy hat, who is chased by a limber frog on stilts, who … well, you get the idea.

Eventually, the reader is treated to the revelation of how the shoe has come to pass through the possession of a menagerie of animals, and an ending that circles back satisfactorily to the opening image.

Edwards’ artwork, vividly rendered in watercolour, pencil, and gouache, has a vintage feel that contrasts with the growing trend toward graphically and digitally inspired illustrations in children’s books. Is Edwards’ method better? Not necessarily, though it is difficult to argue with the obvious skill involved in creating such intensely detailed, meticulously layered illustrations. An abundance of animals and other objects is cleverly hidden in plain view, drawing the eye from the main characters to the I-spy-worthy backgrounds and myriad treasures contained therein.

With a lilting sing-song text and art that is delightful and fun (the expression on the kitten’s face as it is being tickled is priceless), this is a book that will appeal to keen-eyed youngsters and nostalgic older readers alike.