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Posted & filed under Children's Book Reviews

Kyo Maclear’s newest picture book, The Liszts, tells the story of a family that obsessively makes lists about everything. Mama Liszt, Papa Liszt, their three children, Grandpa, and even the cat, all spend their days creating lists on topics; from ghastly illnesses and best cheeses to greatest admirers and dreaded chores. When a stranger arrives one day, only middle child Edward, who “makes lists to quiet the swirl of his midnight mind,” is willing to talk with someone not on his list. As he and the visitor share their deepest, unanswered questions about the world, Edward and the other Liszts start to realize that perhaps their rigidly structured lists need to expand and allow spontaneity.

Maclear’s quirky tale of embracing the unexpected is perfectly complemented by Júlia Sardà’s enchantingly melancholic illustrations. Sardà’s shadowy palette, carefully-composed images, and hand-lettered text contribute to an aura of whimsical solemnity. Of particular note is the page where Grandpa Liszt lists his most fearsome enemies. Older readers will enjoy picking out the famous figures included on Grandpa’s wall of portraits, such as Sherlock Holmes, Rasputin, and Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. With his overgrown hair and colourful helium balloons, Sardà also strikes just the right note with the stranger who is simultaneously slightly menacing and charmingly woebegone. Even the book is tall and thin, with the summary and biographies on the dustjacket flaps appearing as lists.

In a time when information is increasingly available as point-form snippets, The Liszts is a valuable reminder to explore the world and find joy in its crazy unpredictability.

Roseanne Gauthier
Roseanne Gauthier is the Youth Services Librarian for the PEI Public Library Service where she writes book reviews. She has worked in the Faculties of Education at both the University of Prince Edward Island and Mount Saint Vincent University and spent two amazing years as the Children’s Librarian at the Confederation Centre Public Library. She holds a Master’s in Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University, and a M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Waterloo. Roseanne lives in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island with her husband, their adorable daughter, and two tuxedo cats.