Margaret’s Unicorn written and illustrated by Briony May Smith

     Margaret’s Unicorn written and illustrated by Briony May Smith, Schwartz & Wade (an imprint of Random House), 9781984896537, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

What did you like about the book?  Margaret and her parents settle into a stone cottage near her grandma, in what looks to be a magical, seaside spot in Ireland.  While exploring the moors, she finds a roly-poly baby unicorn, left behind while the sleek and beautiful adults bolt for the sky. Now it’s up to Margaret to tend to the little one for a year. With Grandma’s advice and Mom & Dad’s support, she secures the proper diet (flowers and water touched by moonlight), cozies up in bed or in front of the fire with her new bestie, and then finally says goodbye when his mom returns. Meanwhile, Margaret settles in and makes a friend, feeling ever more comfortable in her new home. She even gets to catch a glimpse of her baby, now fully grown and independent. The story is told in first person narrative by Margaret, which gives us the chance to feel her small worries and wonders. The language is lyrical and simple, making this a good read aloud for storytime or as a bedtime story.

The artwork for this book, done in mixed media (watercolor, pen-and-ink) is intricate and lovely. Both the girl and the creature are irresistible, with big heads and eyes that stare adoringly at one another. The unicorn has an endearingly long tail that drags on the ground and stands on his hind legs to peer over hedges and fences, sort of like an adorable puppy waiting to grow into its body. Smith has paid a lot of attention to details that reinforce the coziness of her story: everyone wears cunningly handknit sweaters, the heather on the hills dances in the wind, and a dappled pattern of sunlight and shadow creates realistic depth to the illustrations. I also really enjoyed the smooth transitions from vignette to full page and back to vignette that Smith effortlessly employs. Margaret and her family are White, although her new friend has brown skin.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No. Children may wonder if the unicorn is real, as its appearance is related to the drifting clouds of spring and fall, but presumably one of the pleasures of fantasy is asking that very question and not getting a definitive answer.

To whom would you recommend this book?  If you have unicorn lovers age 4-7 in your library (and who doesn’t?) they will find this book a nice respite from the glittery mythical beast that’s become part-and-parcel of the legend. 

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Picture books

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: February 15, 2021

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